Chancellor Backs Businesses with Billions for Coronavirus

Picture courtesy Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

BILLIONS OF POUNDS worth of measures to support UK businesses through coronavirus, alongside action on housebuilding, cladding, and rates relief was announced by Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 2020 Budget.

The Chancellor outlined his £30bn response to the epidemic, of which £7bn is directly available for businesses.

Sick Pay

Self-employed workers will be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit for self-isolating, with the minimum income floor for Universal Credit removed for the duration of the outbreak.

Businesses with less than 250 employees will also be able to claim back funds paid out for statutory sick pay from a £2 billion government fund, as it’s estimated up to 1 in 5 workers could be off with the virus at any one time.

Those looking to claim statutory sick pay will be able to receive a sick note through NHS 111 online or by telephone.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders said, “Builders are increasingly concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on their businesses.

“Today’s package of measures to support SMEs through refunding Statutory Sick Pay, making temporary loans and grants available, and support for the self-employed will provide welcome relief to small building businesses and their workers alike.”

Tax

Self-employed people and small businesses can ask HMRC for more time to pay taxes during the outbreak by calling a dedicated helpline.

Changes to the national insurance contribution threshold means employees will be £104 better off a year, and self-employed individuals £78 a year.

Loans & grants

The 700,00 firms currently receiving small businesses rates relief will qualify for a £3,000 grant.

A new temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme will provide up to £1bn working capital loans for SMEs with 80% of its value backed by government.

Cladding

Following the announcement that a government committee is to look at the pace and scale of the removal of unsafe cladding, Sunak announced £1bn to remove unsafe cladding from public and private residential buildings above 18 meters, as part of a building safety fund.

Peter Johnson, chairman of Vivalda Group, said, “This is very welcome news, as the government has been dragging its feet on this issue for many months. This announcement should bring much needed respite and relief to the thousands of tenants still living in potentially unsafe buildings.

“Fixing our broken high rise housing market has been a shameful episode in the government’s period in office, which has finally been sorted. At last, they’ve provided the funds to ‘get it done’, as the Chancellor might say. We now need to pull together as an industry to bring this sorry taste of affair to a close – and bringing confidence and credit back to the embattled cladding sector.”

Housing

The chancellor repeated government commitment to building 300,000 houses a year with £1.1bn announced for the Housing Infrastructure Fund and £440m going to 9 metro mayor areas for housebuilding on brownfield land.

A further £9.5bn has been added to the Affordable Homes Programme for England, bringing the total up to £12.2bn for 2021-22 which the government hopes will attract £38bn of further public and private investment.

Environment

On the environment, the Chancellor revealed he is to introduce from April 2022 a plastic packaging tax of £200 per tonne on packaging that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. He is also restricting the use of red diesel exclusively to agricultureuse.

In contrast, Sunak also committed £27bn to building new roads as well as freezing fuel duty for another year.

Hew Edgar, Head of RICS UK Government Relations & City Strategy

Hew Edgar, Head of RICS UK Government Relations & City Strategy, said,  “There is lots in today’s budget to applaud and the Chancellor has clearly been listening to RICS – particularly with the long term review of business rates which needs to happen quickly for firms to plan ahead, and the £1bn cladding remediation fund which will give more leaseholders and homeowners certainty and ensure where they live is safe.

“Levelling-up the country isn’t about what is said at the dispatch box, but the £600bn to be spent on new infrastructure stands to transform all parts of this country – however we must learn the lessons of projects like Heathrow and Cross Rail to ensure this is delivered effectively for taxpayers. Our professionals can help ensure projects that make a real difference to peoples’ lives are delivered on time and on budget.

“Delivering green, new housing required an ambitious approach to VAT – not superficial tweaks to stamp duty – so we’re disappointed the Chancellor didn’t support the property industry to retrofit thousands of buildings, turning them into places people would have loved to call home.”

Education

Picture courtesy HM Treasury

Sunak announced £1.5bn to improve English Further Education college buildings, and a corresponding £300 million to be shared between the devolved nations.

There will be funding of £120m for 8 new institutes of technology in England for technical education.

Other measures include a review of the workings of the Apprenticeship Levy, and £95m investment in T-Levels in England.

STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett said: Unfortunately this Budget is thin on measures to tackle climate change and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Renewables are vital to reaching net zero, and without good policies in place to support the uptake of solar we will fall well short of the 40 gigawatts needed by 2030 to keep on track. Time is running out to act.

“The freeze on the carbon price support rate is particularly disappointing, as is the lack of any meaningful policy on energy efficiency and green improvements for existing homes, such as solar and battery storage.

“We do welcome the decision to hold a review of business rates, which are the main barrier to the deployment of large rooftop PV. Additionally, we are pleased to see an extension to the Renewable Heat Incentive, and the introduction of a Low Carbon Heat Support Scheme which categorically must apply to solar heat technologies.”

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