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Autumn Budget 2017: Expert Analysis

Take a look at the reaction and insights from the Finance world to Phillip Hammond's Autumn Budget

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Yesterday saw Chancellor Phillip Hammond deliver his second budget.  While the abolition of Stamp Duty, several tax revisions, freezes on several duties, increased investment in AI and Technology and a £3 billion investment into the NHS all came as welcome additions they could not prevent a sharp drop in the UK Growth Forecast following the budget.

So with many experts labelling it a ‘make or break’ moment for Hammond and a somewhat beleaguered Government, we spoke to the industry experts to see what the Autumn budget really means for the Financial Sector in a special extended Your Thoughts: Autumn Budget 2017

Choose your sector below or scroll through to read all the insight.

FinTech & Digital
UK Growth, Investment & Forex
Tax
Healthcare & Retail
Property & Real Estate

 

FinTech & Digital

 

Abe Smith, CEO and Founder at Dealflo

London has been a world-leading financial centre since the 19th century, but low growth forecasts and the lack of clarity around Brexit are unsettling for businesses. The Chancellor has had to work hard to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place to invest and innovate post-Brexit. The new National Investment Fund means that even after Brexit, the UK will remain a hub for FinTech innovation and will attract fast-growing tech companies.

Niels Turfboer, Managing Director of UK & Benelux, Spotcap:

The FinTech industry is going from strength to strength and the UK Government can play an important part in enabling FinTechs to continue to thrive.

We therefore welcome Philip Hammond’s promise to invest over £500m in numerous technology initiatives, including artificial intelligence and regulatory innovation, as well as unlock over £20bn of new investment in UK scale-up businesses.

With this assurance, the government has shown a strong commitment to the FinTech sector, which will hopefully help tech companies all around the UK to flourish and grow.

World Economic Forum member Jane Zavalishina, CEO of Yandex Data Factory

The reality is that it is not the scientific development of AI that will be game-changing in the next few years, but instead the more prosaic, practical application of AI across many different sectors.

While AI is too often associated with self-driving cars and robots, the truth is the most significant AI applications that are of most significance to businesses, are actually the least visually exciting. AI that improves decision-making, optimises existing processes and delivers more accurate demand prediction will boost productivity far more powerfully than in all sectors.

But it’s not just productivity that will be significantly impacted – business revenue will also benefit. The beauty of AI lies in its ability to be applied with no capital investments – making it an affordable innovation for businesses to adopt. Unlike what is commonly thought, applying AI does not require infrastructure changes – in many processes cases we already have automated process control, so adding AI on top would require no investment at all. Instead, companies will see ROI within just a few months.

Martin Port, Founder and CEO BigChange:

We welcome this announcement and support for tech businesses from the Chancellor. Financial backing and stability is a huge hurdle facing all start-ups, so I am pleased to see the government pledge more than £20 billion of new investment. I just hope this funding is easy to access and readily available for those who need it, rather than being hidden among reams of red tape.

Leon Deakin, Partner in the technology team at Coffin Mew:

As a firm with a growing technology sector and client base in this area we are obviously delighted to see specific investment in the technology sector, particularly in AI and driverless vehicles.

Doom mongers have long been predicting that the UK and its tech hubs will be hit hard by Brexit and there have been numerous reports of rival cities within the EU which have sought to position themselves as alternative options. However, we are yet to see this materialise and incentives and commitments such as those announced by the Chancellor in these innovative but essential areas have to be great news for the economy, the sector and those who advise businesses in it.

Of course, creating the next unicorn is no easy task but a serious level of investment of the magnitude announced should at least ensure those businesses with promise have the best chance to scale up even if they don’t reach the $1billion level. Likewise, there is little point developing these new technologies if the infrastructure and support is then not there to utilise them properly

Matthew Adam, Chief Executive Officer of We Are Digital:

With the UK economy now expected to grow by 1.5% in 2017, a downgrade from the 2% forecast made in March, coupled with the challenges of Brexit, the need for the UK to sit at the forefront of digital skills and inclusion is more pressing than ever. We need to be able to grasp, with both hands, the digital opportunities that present themselves to us in order to make us a true global digital force.

The reality is that we simply cannot afford not to. Independent analysis shows that getting the UK online and understanding how to use digital tools could add between £63 billion – £92 billion to UK Plc’s annual GDP. Indeed, it is my belief that economies which focus strongly on getting its citizens online are also more productive.

The Chancellor has said that a new high-tech business is founded in the UK every hour, which he wants to increase to every half hour. It is imperative we support this growth through the announced £500m investment in artificial intelligence, to 5G and full-fibre broadband. However, to bridge the need for the 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people which are required by 2022, we must create and support retraining opportunities across society to make the UK truly digital.

Technology improvements are causing widespread changes in every market and the public sector should be no exception, especially as it often faces the biggest social problems to solve. I’m glad the government is waking up to the fact that the latest technological advances don’t need to be assigned only to the private sector, but can do a lot of good to the community at large. We know from our direct work with the Home Office that every government and council department is moving its processes online. Whether it’s chatbots to automate processes, or solving how people engage with Universal Credit, there is so much we can do here with ‘Gov -tech’

I therefore welcome the Chancellor’s digital announcements today and consider this budget as not so much a leap in the right digital direction, but more a necessary conservative step.

 

UK Growth, Forex & Investment

 

Owain Walters, CEO of Frontierpay:

The Chancellor’s efforts to win younger voters from Labour by abolishing stamp relief for first-time buyers on homes up to £300,000, and on the first £300,000 of properties up to £500,000, come as no surprise. The potential for such an announcement has been a hot media topic in recent weeks and as such, we don’t expect to see any significant impact on the value of the pound.

“In the wake of this Budget, any real movement from the pound will be caused either by developments in the Brexit negotiations or the potential for a further interest rate rise. I would therefore advise any businesses that want to stay on top of turbulence in the currency markets to keep a close eye on inflation data.

Markus Kuger, Senior Economist, Dun & Bradstreet

It’s not surprising that the Chancellor opened this year’s statement with a focus on Brexit; even as businesses absorb the implications of the Budget, they have a close eye to the ongoing negotiations and any likely trade agreement, which is likely to profoundly impact their future. The government’s move to provide a £3bn fund in the event of a no-deal outcome is designed to increase business confidence. In the meantime the business environment remains challenging, and Dun & Bradstreet forecasts that real GDP growth in 2018 will slow to 1.3% (from 1.8% in 2016). Businesses should continue to follow the Brexit negotiations closely and consider that operating conditions could change dramatically over the next 18 months as the Brexit settlement is clarified.”

 Damian Kimmelman, CEO of Duedil

We welcome the government’s announcement that the Enterprise Investment Schemes’ (EIS) investment limit, for knowledge intensive scale-ups has been doubled.

The EIS has been great for attracting investment for small businesses, however we need to ensure investment through the scheme is not being used for capital preservation purposes, but instead to encourage the growth of companies.

The key to increasing investment in ‘higher risk’ growth companies through the EIS scheme, is to eliminate information friction. With more data, investors can price risk effectively, so they can lend to support the small businesses forming the backbone of the economy, driving growth, and creating jobs.

Lee Wild, Head of Equity Strategy at Interactive Investor:

This budget was always going to be especially tricky for the chancellor. Hitting fiscal targets amid wide divisions over Brexit, while also spending more on populist policies to distract voters from Conservative party infighting and dysfunctional cabinet, was a big ask.  Hammond wasn’t fibbing when he promised a balanced budget. Once tax giveaways, downgrades to growth forecasts, billions more for the NHS and the rest are put through the mincer, both the FTSE 100 and sterling are unchanged.

Given Britain’s housing crisis was an obvious target for the chancellor, he really needed something substantial to make his aim of 300,000 new homes built every year anything more than a pipe dream.  Committing to at least £44 billion of capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the housing market will go a long way to achieving the chancellor’s ambitious target. Abolishing stamp duty for first-time buyer purchases up to £300,000 is a tiny saving, however, and buyers, especially in London, will still require a huge deposit to get a foot on the housing ladder.

The market hung on Hammond’s every word, causing a comical yo-yo effect as the chancellor slowly revealed his strategy.  A threat to use compulsory purchase powers where builders are believed to be holding land for commercial reasons, could cause sleepless nights.

Overall, Hammond’s ideas are sound, but probably not enough of a catalyst to get sector share prices rising significantly near-term, given mixed results in the run-up to this budget.

Mihir Kapadia – CEO and Founder of Sun Global Investments:

The Autumn budget statement from Chancellor Phillip Hammond was as expected, with a few pleasant surprises. While Mr Hammond set out his policy proposals with a “vision for post-Brexit Britain”, he also acknowledged that his Budget was “about much more than Brexit”.  With the Conservatives struggling in the polls, the Chancellor was under pressure to regain support for his party, which is currently in a fragile coalition.

The expected announcements include the decision to abolish stamp duty for first time buyers on properties up to £300,000, addressing the housing crisis, an immediate injection of £3.75 billion into the NHS, investments into infrastructure (transport and network), freezing duty on fuel, alcohol and air travel, and finally a Brexit contingency budget of £3 billion.

While today’s budget was populist and aimed at the electorate, it has to be noted that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) sharply downgraded both Britain’s productivity and growth forecasts, as well as its business investment forecasts, meaning the UK’s finances look set to worsen over the coming years. This does not factor the possibility of a Brexit-related downturn or a wider global recession, which has already been seen as overdue by many forecasters.

We expect the abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers on properties up to £300,000 will draw extra attention and headlines from much of today’s announcements. It is vital that we acknowledge the warnings from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

 

Angus Dent, CEO, ArchOver:

The UK’s productivity growth continues to decrease and we’re looking in the wrong place for answers. It’s not just a case of everyone working a bit harder. Investment in public infrastructure and fiscal policy will be the defining factors that help the UK catch up, while real growth will come from our SME sector.

Britain is known as a nation of entrepreneurs. Yet we’re in real danger of not giving our SMEs the support they need to thrive. We need a bottom-up approach where small businesses with bright ideas have access to the finance and advice they need to grow. Only then will we have the firm economic foundation we need to build our productivity post-Brexit.

The expansion of the National Investment Fund in today’s Budget is a good start, but too many SMEs still have to pay their way with personal savings or put their houses on the line as security if they turn to the big banks for help.

We need to inspire a new culture. We know there is an army of willing investors out there who want to support British business – lending across P2P platforms is on course to rise by 20 per cent by the end of this year according to data from 4thWay.

However, we need to raise awareness among SMEs of the different options available to help them finance their growth. SMEs need to take control of their own destiny. With the right finance in place, they can drive the whole country forward to new heights of productivity. We can’t just leave it to government – small businesses must be given the power and the cash to fulfil their potential.

 

Tax

 

Paul Falvey, tax partner at BDO:

It’s clear that the headline grabbing news revolved around the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first time buyers on properties purchased up to 300,000, at a cost of £600m a year to the tax man. Whilst this is important for people getting on the property ladder, there were other key assertions.

Firstly, HMRC will start to charge more tax on royalties relating to UK sales when those royalties are paid to a low tax jurisdiction.  Although this is only set to raise approximately £200m a year, it sets a precedent that tax avoidance will continue to be on the governments agenda. Implementing the OECD policies is a tactic we expected.

Furthermore, companies will pay additional tax on the increase in value of their capital assets from January 2018. The expected abolition of indexation allowance will mean that, despite falling tax rates, companies will be taxed on higher profits. By 2022/2023 this is expected to raise over £525m.

62% of the businesses we polled before the Budget said they will be willing to pay more taxes in return for a simpler system. Yet, once again, the government has done nothing to tackle the issue of tax complexity. It is a huge obstacle to growth and businesses will be disappointed that there was no commitment to setting out a coherent tax strategy.

Craig Harman is a Tax Specialist at Perrys Chartered Accountants:

Although it was widely anticipated beforehand, the only real rabbit out of the hat moment for the Chancellor was confirming the abolishment of stamp duty for first time buyers. This equates to quite a generous tax incentive for those able to benefit resulting in a £5,000 saving on a £300,000 property purchase.

The Chancellor has also stood by his previous promises, by raising the personal allowance to £11,850, and the higher rate threshold to £43,650. This is in line with the commitment to raise them to £12,500 and £50,000 respectively by the end of parliament.

Small business owners will be pleased to note that speculation regarding a decrease in the VAT registration threshold did not come to fruition. It was anticipated the Chancellor would look to bring the UK in line with other EU countries, however this will be consulted on instead and may result in changes over the next couple of years. Any decrease in the threshold could place a significant tax and compliance burden on the smallest businesses.

Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent

I don’t believe that this is a particularly positive Budget for the micro-business sector. Rather than actually offering real support or meaningful legislation to people running their own businesses in Britain, the Chancellor has simply kept the status quo.

While it’s pleasing to see that the VAT threshold has not been lowered – which would have added a significant new administrative burden to millions of UK business owners – this is hardly cause for celebration. Neither is the exemption of ‘white van men’ from diesel charges, which is the very least that the Government could have done to protect the country’s army of self-employed tradespeople.

It’s also disappointing that there are still a number of issues including digital tax that have not been expanded in this Budget. I would have preferred to see the Chancellor provide clarity on those issues, as well as introducing new legislation to curb the culture of late payment that is plaguing the micro-business sector and further simplifying National Insurance, VAT and other business taxes.

Rob Marchant, Partner, Crowe Clark Whitehill

The Chancellor announced that the VAT registration threshold will not be changed for the next two years while a review is carried out of the implications of changing this (either up or down).

Having a high threshold is often regarded as creating a ‘cliff edge’ for businesses that grow to the point of crossing that line. However, keeping a significant number of small businesses away from the obligations of being VAT registered allows them to focus on running their operations without additional worry. Many small businesses will welcome the retention of the threshold.

The consultation should look at ways to help smooth the effect of the “cliff edge”, while continuing to reduce administrative obligations for small businesses.

Jane Mackay, Head of Tax, Crowe Clark Whitehill

The tax avoidance debate has centred around large multinationals and their corporate tax bills. High profile cases have eroded public trust in how we tax companies. By maintaining the UK’s low corporate tax rate, currently 19%, and reducing it to 17% from 2020, the Chancellor accepts that corporate tax is only of limited relevance in our UK economy. It accounted for around just 7% of UK tax revenues last year.

The Budget announces changes to extend the scope of UK withholding taxes to tax royalty payments in connection with UK sales, even if there is no UK taxable presence. There will be computational and reporting challenges, but this measure may pacify those who feel the UK is not getting enough tax from international digital corporates which generate substantial sales revenues from the UK

 

Healthcare & Retail

 

Hitesh Dodhi,Superintendent Pharmacist at PharmacyOutlet.co.uk

With a focus on Brexit, housing and investment into digital infrastructure, it was disappointing to see a many healthcare issues overlooked in today’s Budget. The additional £2.8 billion of funding for the NHS in 2018-19 is a undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it falls short of the extra £4 billion NHS chief executive Simon Stevens says the organisation requires.

What’s more, the Budget lacked substance and specifics; it did little to progress digitalisation in the healthcare sector – an absolute must – while the opportunity to promote pharmacy to play a greater role in delivering front-line services to alleviate the burden on GPs and hospitals was also overlooked. These are both items that should feature prominently on the Government’s health agenda, but the Chancellor did little to address either in today’s announcement.

Jeremy Cooper, Head of Retail Crowe Clark Whitehill:

There is little in this Budget to bring cheer to the struggling retail sector.

The changes to bring future increases in business rates into line with the Consumer Price Index in 2018, two years earlier than previously proposed, is welcome, but is it enough for hard-stretched shop owners?

The National Living Wage will increase for workers of all ages, including apprentices, which is excellent news for lower paid employees. Retailers would not begrudge them this increase, but retail tends to have a higher proportion of lower paid employees and the impact on store profitability and hurdle rates for new stores should not be underestimated.

There is more positive news for DIY, home furnishings and related retailers in the form of the abolition of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) for first time house buyers. This should help stimulate the first time buyer market and free up the wider housing market which in turn should boost retail sales for DIY and home furnishings retailers from buyers decorating and furnishing their new homes.

 

Property & Real Estate

 

Paresh Raja, CEO of bridging specialist MFS

After an underwhelming Spring Budget that completely overlooked the property market, this time around the Chancellor has at least announced some reforms that will benefit homebuyers. While stamp duty has been cut for first-time homebuyers, the amount of money this will save prospective buyers is in reality still limited – the average first-time buyer spends £200,000 on a property; abolishing stamp duty for them will save them just £1,500.

Importantly, homeowners looking to upgrade to another property still face the heavy financial burden of stamp duty, which will ultimately deter them from moving house. I fear this will have significant implications in the longer term, decreasing the number of people moving from their first property purchase, and thereby reducing the number of properties available for first-time homebuyers, and reducing movement in the market as a whole.

Fareed Nabir, CEO and founder of LetBritain

“Having acknowledged the growing number of Brits stuck in rental accommodation, it’s pleasing to see the Government deliver a Budget heavily geared towards the lettings market. With 7.2 million households likely to be in the rental market by 2025, the Chancellor has seized the opportunity to continue with the recent wave of reforms by offering tax incentives for landlords guaranteeing tenancies of at least 12 months. This should hopefully have a trickle-down effect on rental prices, offering more financial manoeuvrability for tenants saving to buy their own house – something the Chancellor has made easier – while also providing additional security for renters.”

Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP

We should to see house price increases almost immediately on the back of this announcement. His commitment to building an extra 300,000 homes a year is not going to happen until 2020s, so this measure could lead to market overheating in the meantime.

The removal of indexation allowance will come as a further blow to buy-to-let landlords, many of whom have been transferring their portfolios into companies since interest the restriction rules were introduced. This will mean paying more tax on the future sale of properties.

Now that all sales of UK investment property by non-residents after April 2019 will be subject to UK tax, it effectively means one of the incentives to invest in UK property by non-residents has been removed.

Jason Harris-Cohen, founder of Open Property Group 

There was a lot of speculation before the Budget that the Chancellor would reduce or temporarily suspend stamp duty for first-time buyers, in a bid to help young people get on the property ladder. What we got was the complete abolishment of the tax on first-time house purchases of up to £300,000, effective from today, and in London and other expensive areas, the first £300,000 of the cost of a £500,000 purchase by first-time buyers will be exempt from stamp duty. This is arguably the biggest talking point of today’s announcement and as the Chancellor says will go a long was to “reviving the dream of home ownership”.

It was equally refreshing to hear that the Government is committed to increasing the housing supply by boosting construction skills and they envisage building 300,000 net additional homes a year on average by the mid-2020s. However, I was surprised that local authorities will be able to charge 100% premium on council tax on empty properties, though I appreciate that this is a further stimulus to free up properties sitting empty and bring them back to the open market to increase supply. Conversely this could result in falling house prices if there is further supply and lower demand following a period of political and economic uncertainty.

What was disappointing, however, was the absence of any mention to reverse the stamp duty change that were introduced in 2016 for buy-to-let and second homes, which is currently deterring people from investing in the private rented sector. The longer it is around the more of a knock on effect it will have on the growing homelessness crisis, a problem the Government plans to eliminate by 2027 – a bold statement from Mr Hammond!

 

We’d love to hear more of Your Thoughts on Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Budget.  Will it benefit Britain and will the reduced growth forecasts have an impact?  Let us know by commenting below.

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