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Yesterday saw Chancellor George Osborne deliver his 8th governmental budget. Corporate-Commercial Partner, Christian Mancier, provides his reflection on a number of the key points announced to see if they’ll be good for SME businesses in the UK. Topics covered in the Budget which will certainly have an impact on the present and future state of business include: small business rate relief, tax changes, infrastructure, commercial stamp duty and a number of others.

Small Business Rate Relief

One of the headline statements for entrepreneurs and SMEs to come out of the budget was the threshold increase to small business rate relief, which applies to businesses that only use one property. In a permanent move, Mr Osborne announced a more than doubling of the relief from £6,000 to a maximum of £15,000 meaning that by April next year 600,000 small business in a third of all commercial property would pay no business rates at all, which is very good news for SMEs who are often greatly burdened by these business rates. Remember that you have to apply to your local council for this rate relief. The higher rate band is also set to jump from £18,000 to £51,000.

Entrepreneurs’ relief

The Chancellor extended the availability of Entrepreneurs’ Relief in a surprise move. Under the existing regime Entrepreneurs’ Relief (where the gain on the sale of shares in a private limited company was taxed at an effective rate of 10%) was only available to those who held shares in a company and were also a director or employee of the company concerned. This has now been broadened to apply to shareholders who are not employees or directors in a move to encourage investment into private limited companies. This only applies to new shares issued from 17th March 2016 onwards and the shareholder concerned must hold them for 3 years before qualifying for the relief. They specifically must not be a director or employee of the company concerned.

Tax – Corporation and Capital Gains

The Budget in July 2015 announced a reduction in Corporation Tax, which is currently at 20%, to 18% by 2020. This has been revised and further decreased with the aim of 17% by April 2020. Good news for firms in general and for the economy in attracting work from further afield, making Britain’s door firmly ‘open to business’ with Britain having one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the developed world.

In three weeks’ time, Capital Gains Tax is to be reduced from 28% to 20%. This is the tax paid on profit. A reduction in this will be a huge benefit for investors, however, it does not apply to gains on the sale of buy-to-let properties and second homes where the Chancellor has continued his theme of making life more difficult for property investors.

Meanwhile the tax-free allowance will be increased to £11,500 from April 2017, with the top 40% tax rate increasing to £45,000.

Northern Powerhouse Infrastructure

The Northern Powerhouse was mentioned on several occasions in a bid to keep its momentum going after murmurings from many people in regards to the actual substance behind the slogan. Good news for the North is that the HS3 high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds has been given the go-ahead with a view to cutting the journey time to 30 minutes by 2030, although on reviewing the detail it looks like this is an initial £60m to develop the plan for HS3 rather than the actual cost of delivering the project.

The £230 million ear marked for road improvements to the North of England including an additional carriageway on the M62 and upgrades to the A66 and A69 is most welcome, especially in light of the report earlier this week that there are fewer lanes on the 14 A roads crossing the Pennines between Sheffield and Scotland than there are crossing the Thames between Tower Bridge and Chelsea.

Also mentioned was the possibility of a Peak District tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester, which also isn’t a quick job; £75 million was been set aside to develop these plans but it could take 20 years to build.

Savings

In an unexpected move the Chancellor announced a couple of new measures for savers, including a new Lifetime ISA, which is expected to push aside and overtake personal pensions. From April 2017 the Lifetime ISA will be available to anyone under the age of 40 with the aim of helping those struggling to save for a house and for their subsequent retirement. The deal is that for every £4 you save, the Government will contribute £1, just like the Help to Buy ISA. Money in the Lifetime ISA can be used for buying a house or taken out aged 60+ without penalty. Any other withdrawal is subject to a 5% penalty and you can’t use the government contribution aspect but you can put money back in again afterwards.

The Lifetime ISA and increase in personal ISA limit to £20,000 reiterates the Government’s desire to ‘put the next generation first’. A problem that also needs to be addressed, however, is the fact that many people are struggling to meet normal day-to-day costs.

Best of the Rest

  • Fuel Duty – To be frozen for the 6th year running. Very good news for businesses and entrepreneurs who have a heavy reliance on vehicles and also for the everyday driver!
  • Tax Avoidance – It’s claimed that £12 billion is to be raised from tackling tax avoidance and cracking down on royalty payments that big companies use to move money to tax havens.
  • Commercial Stamp Duty – Like the changes in stamp duty that were introduced to residential property, commercial property stamp duty is to be reformed to a similar ‘slice system’. From Thursday 17th March commercial stamp duty of 0% will apply to properties purchased up to £150,000, 2% on the next £200,000 and a 5% top rate above £250,000.