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CBI delivers stark warning to Hunt:

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

tHE cBi’s boss has urged Jeremy Hunt to freeze business rates and review the tourist tax to kickstart the economy.

rain Newton-smith also argued that the headline rate of corporation tax should come down in the long term, to boost Britain.

Meanwhile, she insisted the lobby group has recovered after having plunging into crisis over sexual assault claims.

‘We are back,’ Newton-smith (pictured) said at the confederation of British industry’s annual conference in central London.

Her comments on tax ahead of the chancellor’s autumn statement tomorrow add to growing calls for Hunt to use some of the spending ‘headroom’ he is likely to have to reduce pressures on firms and households.

retailer frasers Group and shopping centre chain Westfield also called for action over business rates and jeweller Boodles described the tourist tax as a ‘spectacular own goal’. one autumn statement measure seen as highly likely is an extension of ‘full expensing’ – a tax break that rewards businesses for investing in plant and machinery. the policy, announced in the spring, has helped ease the sting of the headline rate of corporation tax rising from 19pc to 25pc earlier this year but will expire in 2026.

speaking to the Mail at the cBi conference, Newton-smith added her voice to the chorus of business leaders who want it to be made permanent.

‘it’s important that we look at the wider tax landscape and make sure that the UK is competitive looking at corporation tax as a whole,’ she said.

Newton-smith acknowledged that the headline rate of corporation tax – which was hiked in the spring despite a clamour of protest from businesses – was unlikely to come down, adding to the argument for an extension of full expensing.

But she went on: ‘of course, over the longer term, looking at the headline rate is something we would want any government to look at and make sure that we remain competitive.’ she also said ‘ideally’ business rates – which are expected to go up in the spring using september’s rate of inflation as a benchmark – should be frozen too. ‘Business rates going up again by 6.7pc would be really challenging for many high street shops, leisure centres and many beyond,’ she said.

chris Wootton, chief financial officer at frasers Group, said: ‘We are extremely concerned by the prospect of a substantial increase in business rates.

‘We urge the Government to rethink the planned increase to ensure businesses like ours can continue investing in the future of the High street, creating jobs, opening stores and supporting the UK’s economic growth.’

the cBi is also urging the chancellor to review the decision to scrap VAt relief on spending by overseas visitors, described as a tourist tax.

Newton-smith added: ‘that’s really about making sure the UK remains a really attractive destination for international tourists and what they bring to the economy.

‘it is one of our great exports when you think about what the UK can bring to the world.’

Newton-smith was speaking as the cBi held its first conference since it faced a crisis after a series of sex assault allegations.

the claims prompted big name organisations such as Aviva, John Lewis and NatWest to cancel their memberships.

the lobby group’s conference this year lacked the star chief executives it might have expected in prior events.

But the chancellor did speak at the event in a coup for the organisers. And Newton-smith – formerly the cBi’s chief economist – said: ‘i think a few months ago it maybe felt this wouldn’t be where we are but we’re absolutely delighted.

‘it really feels that we are back influencing policy makers on the big issues of the day.’

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