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Black Country Chamber of Commerce Welcome Chancellor’s Commitment to National Competitiveness

Corin CraneFollowing this afternoon’s Autumn Budget, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce welcome Chancellor Philip Hammond’s commitment to ensuring that the country remains competitive on a global scale in the face of Brexit. In particular, announcements relating to regional devolution, skills investment and business support showcase the government’s determination in placing the United Kingdom at the forefront of innovation and enterprise.

With regards to devolution, the Chancellor unveiled the Transforming Cities Fund that is comprised of £1.7bn to support transport infrastructure developments, which includes a £250m investment to extend the Midlands Metro system that will serve as a direct link between Brierley Hill and Wednesbury. Highlighting the significance of this investment, once the project has been completed it will be the first time that Dudley and Brierley Hill are connected to the rail network since the 1960’s.

On the topic of skills, the Chancellor has pledged that the current government will work to deliver an extra 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, whilst providing an extra £20m of funding to support T-Level qualifications. This commitment has been complemented by the announcement that the government will also be working with industry on a National Retraining Scheme in order to enhance the skills of those currently in work, in strategic areas such as digital technology, thereby helping businesses to address potential skills shortages and as a result optimise their growth and productivity.

In relation to business support, Chancellor Philip Hammond also announced that small firms will receive help on business rates costs by bringing forward the planned uprating switch from RPI to CPI by two years, whilst a freeze on the VAT registration threshold will also benefit them. Furthermore, in order to support innovative and technological initiatives, the government has pledged over £20bn of new investment in UK scale-up businesses, including through a new fund in the British Business Bank, "seeded with £2.5 billion of public money".

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “As a Chamber, we are pleased to see that the Chancellor has announced a series of measures to ensure that businesses throughout the region are able to remain competitive. In recent years, businesses throughout the Black Country have consistently highlighted that there is a current lack of skilled workers entering the workforce, therefore the announcement of funding to support education programmes should help to address some of these issues. Small businesses will also likely welcome today’s budgetary announcements, particularly with regards to the planned freeze on VAT thresholds and early switch from RPI to CPI.

“Furthermore, the government’s continued commitment to the devolution agenda will help to give us greater autonomy as a region and serve to balance the national economy. Through our Transport & Infrastructure Campaign, the Black Country Chamber has been active in lobbying for greater investment in our transport infrastructure network, and therefore the announcement of the Transforming Cities Fund is welcome news.

“Whilst an extra £3bn has been announced for Brexit preparations over the next 2 years, it is of the utmost importance that the government is able to provide clarity to businesses in relation to ongoing negotiations, so that they are able to commit to long-term plans for investment that will ultimately benefit the national economy.”

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