February 2017 Policy Update

Sizewell C Stage 2 Pre-Application Consultation 

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce via our Transport and Infrastructure Board has responded to the Sizewell C Stage 2 Pre-Application Consultation, which closed on 3 February 2017. Our response: supports EDF Energy’s proposal to construct at Sizewell a new nuclear power station comprising 2 pressurised water reactors and supplying enough low carbon electricity to supply around 6 million homes; highlights areas where we believe the application can be strengthened regarding local economic and business growth, infrastructure, skills and employment matters; and draws attention to areas where we believe Suffolk Chamber of Commerce can work with EDF Energy even more closely going forward for the benefit of our members and the wider business community.

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce response 

A120 

A consultation on an Essex County Council (ECC)-led proposal for improvements to the A120 between Braintree and the A12 was launched, and reported to Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s Transport and Infrastructure Board, on 17 January 2017. Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has submitted a response which can be viewed here. It is intended that ECC will publish their preferred option in September 2017 and preliminary design works will take place during 2017-2018. Entry into the Government’s Roads Investment Strategy 2 is hoped for in late 2019. 5 routes are being consulted on, which are set out in the report “A120 Braintree to A12 Consultation on Route Options 17 January – 14 March 2017” which can be viewed here. The consultation closes on 14 March 2017.

A12 

Highways England (HE) launched a non-statutory consultation on 23 January 2017 on planned improvements to the Essex section (Boreham to Marks Tey) of the A12 which will be phased over the Government’s Roads Investment Strategy 1 and 2 roads periods. HE is seeking views on 4 options: widen the existing route; bypass Rivenhall and Feering; and bypass one only of either of those two villages. The consultation, details of which are here, will close on 3 March with a preferred route then decided and put out to formal consultation in the summer of 2017. Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has responded and the response can be viewed here

Orwell bridge closure 22 November 2016 

There has been a series of ‘wash up’ meetings since the prolonged closure of the Orwell Bridge, due to high winds, on 22 November 2106. These have looked at, amongst other things: the impact on business and the wider community; communications; and traffic management. A ‘summit’ was held on 26 January 2017, hosted by the Regional Director of Highways England and involving representatives from the local authorities, police, health, emergency planning and business. Suffolk Chamber presented a report on the impact on businesses, based on member experiences, which we compiled immediately after the closure. Suffolk Chamber is now represented on a communications group with the aim of ensuring that events surrounding any future closures are communicated much better to the business community in future.

Budget submission: action needed on current ‘broken’ rates system

Ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Budget on 8th March, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s national body, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), is urging the Government to get to grips with reforming the business rates system.

The business group is calling on the Chancellor to use his last Spring Budget to support long-term business investment by taking action to deliver real reform to the business rates system. As it stands, the system creates a number of unforeseen incentives for business location, property improvement, and plant and machinery investment.

The call comes after representatives from a number of chambers in the network including Stephen Britt, board member of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, met with Jane Ellison MP, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to highlight how the current business rates revaluation process is disproportionately affecting some local businesses. 

The BCC is seeking four key measures on business rates from the Spring Budget: 

  • Abandon the fiscal neutrality principle in business rates reform – an unacceptable barrier to fundamental reform of the business rates system that is unique to that tax;
  • Bring forward the switch from RPI to CPI, currently planned for April 2020, to April 2017;
  • Removal of all plant and machinery from the valuation of property for business rates purposes; and
  • Drop proposals to restrict the ability of the Valuation Tribunal for England to order changes to business rates liabilities.

 Stephen Britt said “the BCC is doing the right thing at the right time. The current rates system is broken, and despite attempts by successive governments to introduce marginal reforms, the fundamental unfairness of business rates remains – not least the requirement on businesses to pay upfront. 

“It is imperative that the Government listens and acts quickly to implement a fairer, simpler and less burdensome system that at its worst penalises good businesses and blights whole business clusters, including high streets. The coming budget would be the perfect opportunity to initiate a fundamental reform of the system.” 

British Chambers of Commerce Podcast: Business Rates 

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)’s latest podcast, discussing the burden of business rates on businesses across the country, is now live at https://audioboom.com/posts/5585083-bcc-talks-business-rates

Please subscribe for this and other topical podcasts from BCC. The BCC has tweeted a link here

The BCC hosting platform is on Audioboom – a very easy-to-use hosting platform that works on all mobile devices. You can download the app and follow BCC via the link here

Industrial Strategy 

On 23 January the Government launched its consultation for Britain's Modern Industrial Strategy and wants as many organisations as possible to input into this consultation to make sure that the policy reflects the diversity of our economy. The consultation period runs until 17th April. 

The Government wants to build an Industrial Strategy that addresses long-term challenges to the UK economy and the East of England and to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country.

The green paper sets out the Government’s vision for a modern Industrial Strategy and some early actions they have committed to take. It aims to start an open and collaborative conversation about the skills, research, infrastructure and the other things we need to get right to drive long term growth in productivity. 

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce will be responding to the consultation and you can do so here

Grants up to £10,000 available to help companies grow 

What things do you need to buy to improve your business? If you have spending plans which will help you introduce more goods or services, increase production, cut costs or create jobs, ask the New Anglia Growth Hub about grants of between £1,000 and £10,000 at a 20% contribution rate. Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the micro grants can be used to help businesses expand by effectively discounting their spending plans. Eligible costs can include purchase of plant, machinery, tools, IT equipment, software, licenses and professional fees, as well as construction, extension or purchase of business premises. Micro, small and medium sized businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk can apply, subject to eligibility. To discuss whether it's right for your business, call 0300 333 6536 or email growthhub@newanglia.co.uk

Around £10m of EU Rural Funding released for Norfolk and Suffolk 

A number of national funding calls have been published by the Government under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) Growth Programme – part of the European Structural and Investment Funds programmes (ESIF) that include Norfolk and Suffolk.  All of these recent calls can be accessed here 

The details of these calls are as follows: 

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development Fund (EAFRD) 

  1. An Open Rolling Call under EAFRD Sub-Measure 4.2 (Food Processing Grants) – Up to £4.17m is being made available under this Call, which closes on 31st January 2018.  Grants of between £60,000 and £1m are available to good quality eligible projects in the New Anglia area.  Projects can submit an Expression of Interest at any time before the closing date.  The Call documents and instructions on how to apply can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rdpe-growth-programme. This is a national Call taking place across England.  Details of the local priorities for Norfolk and Suffolk can be found on Page 47 of the Call document.  Projects will be expected to make a contribution to both national and local priorities. 
  1. An Open Rolling Call under EAFRD Sub-Measure 6.4 (Rural Business Development) – Up to £3.06m is being made available under this Call, which closes on 31st January 2018.  Grants of between £50,000 and £170,000 are available to good quality eligible projects in Norfolk and Suffolk.  Projects can submit an Expression of Interest at any time before the closing date.  The Call documents and instructions on how to apply can be accessed here. This is a national Call taking place across England.  Details of the local priorities for Norfolk and Suffolk can be found on Page 47 of the Call document.  Projects will be expected to make a contribution to both national and local priorities. 
  1. An Open Rolling Call under EAFRD Sub-Measure 7.5 (Rural Tourism Infrastructure) – Up to £2.41m is being made available under this Call, which closes on 31st January 2018.  Grants of between £50,000 and £170,000 are available to good quality eligible projects in Norfolk and Suffolk.  Projects can submit an Expression of Interest at any time before the closing date.  The Call documents and instructions on how to apply can be accessed here. This is a national Call taking place across England.  Details of the local priorities for Norfolk and Suffolk can be found on Page 52 of the Call document.  Projects will be expected to make a contribution to both national and local priorities.

Partners who are interested in developing projects in response to these Calls are advised to make contact with the following colleagues from Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils (depending on the location of the proposal), who will be able to provide advice and support in shaping your proposal in line with programme requirements.  For projects in Suffolk contact either Matthew Jones – matt.jones@suffolk.gov.uk or Andy Cuthbertson – andrew.cuthbertson@suffolk.gov.uk 

These Calls are being managed by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on behalf of Defra, who are the Managing Authority for the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).  Applying for funding is through a two-stage process, the first

stage of which is a relatively straightforward Expression of Interest Form.  Applicants are strongly advised to read the Handbook carefully as well as the application guidance before deciding whether to apply. 

British Chambers of Commerce: Dash for housing must not sacrifice business land  

Commenting on the release of the housing white paper by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: 

“Business communities around England want to see housebuilding on the rise – as it supports construction and property businesses locally, and increases confidence across the board. The government’s renewed commitment to raising our poor record on housebuilding is to be welcomed. So too is a drive to build homes for rent, as well as homes for sale, as they represent an important mix in many areas where businesses are seeking staff. 

“Yet a dash for housing that leaves no room in our towns and cities for offices, depots, laboratories, workshops and factories would be a huge mistake. Ministers must ensure there are enough well-connected sites for commerce and industry across England, where far too much prime business land has been sacrificed to housing development in recent years. Building homes without leaving room for workplaces would be a mistake that takes a generation to correct.” 

New Anglia Integrated Transport Strategy (ITS) 

Mouchel reported to Suffolk Chamber’s Transport and Infrastructure Board on 17 January 2017 on progress with the ITS. New Anglia LEP have retained Mouchel and KPMG to support New Anglia LEP, Norfolk CC and Suffolk CC in its development. The consultants are: developing economic futures for the region in 2030, 2040 and 2050 with associated scenarios for the development of the region’s transport system; evaluating the transport scenarios; and presenting a trajectory based on the three future points. The work will be overseen by the New Anglia Local Transport Board on which Suffolk Chamber is represented. 

A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon developments                       

Main line work on the A1 Alconbury to Brampton has begun and will last 18 months. Work will start on the main section south of Huntingdon in March 2017 including Girton, Swavesey and a new 750m viaduct over the River Ouse; this will take around 3.5 years. Altogether the improvements and concurrent widening will take around 4 years and the project will be completed and the road would be open to traffic by March 2021. The current capacity of the A14 will be maintained during all phases of construction. You can monitor planning and progress here

New Technical and Professional Skills Centre at London Stansted Airport to be created following South East LEP funding success 

A new Technical and Professional Skills Centre at London Stansted Airport today secured £3.5million of funding following Government confirmation of the latest investment into the South East LEP Local Growth Fund. 

The application, made by Harlow College and supported by Essex County Council, proposes to develop and deliver a skills centre at the airport to meet skills gap in aircraft engineering, bridging the gap in technical skills between level 3 and 5 and match growing skills need of the airport and wider area. 

Commenting on the award, Stansted Airport CEO, Andrew Cowan, said: 

“Securing, developing and retaining the right talent and skills at a growing airport like Stansted is critical to our business, our 200 on-site business partners and the long term prosperity of our region.

“Over the last two years we have worked in close partnership with the South East LEP, Harlow College and Essex County Council to develop and deliver an on-site further education facility which will help to address the growing skills gap in areas like engineering, logistics and customer service and develop a pipeline of employees fit for future growth at the airport.

“With the Government rightly focused on delivering a modern industrial strategy we are delighted SELEP has seized the opportunity and recognised the potential of a technical and professional skills centre at Stansted.  We will all now play our part in making this facility a beacon of skills and talent in the East of England.” 

National Minimum Wage change 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s national living wage campaign aims to make sure that employers and employees are aware that the rates will rise on 1 April 2017 (and not in October as per previous years), and that workers are being paid at least the national minimum wage, or national living wage, depending on their age. More can information can be found here

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce Member survey 

Help us to help you and you could win a free place at one of Suffolk Chamber's flagship business networking events. Who said there's no such thing as a free lunch?

As a grassroots, member-led organisation, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce is particularly interested in what our members think of us and the services we provide. 

That is why we have produced our latest membership survey and we would be grateful if you could take a couple of minutes to complete it.

As well as the core six questions that we are using to track member satisfaction against some key Suffolk Chamber services, we’ve added two additional ones this time around about your thoughts on the Chamber diary and the best timings for you to attend Suffolk Chamber networking events.

The deadline for responses is 24th February 2017. 

Please ensure you leave your contact details at the bottom of the survey (question 10) to be included in our prize draw

Please click here to access and complete this short member survey.

The Pensions Regulator (TPR): Key automatic enrolment messages for employers

Don’t ignore your pension duties – it’s not worth risking your credit rating 

TPR has seen the first employers receive County Court Judgements (CCJs) for a failure to pay their automatic enrolment fines. 

This can happen if you persistently ignore the penalty notices TPR sends. If you don’t pay the fine within 30 days of receiving the CCJ, it gets entered on your credit record and remains there for six years, seriously affecting your ability to borrow money for your business in the future. You can read more about it in TPR’s compliance and enforcement quarterly bulletin

Don’t risk the future of your business by getting a CCJ because you’ve failed to pay your fine. Get in touch with The Pensions Regulator before this point – they can help you if you don’t comply or are late in meeting your duties, so you can avoid serious consequences. 

Automatic enrolment: There are two dates to be aware of – your staging date and your declaration of compliance deadline. 

Make sure you know that as part of your automatic enrolment duties, you have a responsibility to complete and submit a declaration of compliance to The Pensions Regulator to tell us how you have met your AE duties. You risk a fine if you don't submit it on time. 

To find out your declaration of compliance deadline go to www.tpr.gov.uk/ae-checker   

Automatic enrolment: Have you nominated a contact? 

It's important that your contact details are kept up to date with The Pensions Regulator so that you receive regular emails with updates and reminders on what you need to do and by when. You’ll need both your PAYE reference and letter code to nominate a contact. 

To nominate or update a contact, go to www.tpr.gov.uk/nominate 

Do you know how automatic enrolment applies to 'director only' companies? 

Or if you are the sole director in a director only company, that automatic enrolment does not apply to you? Make sure you are up to speed with what you need to do, and by when. 

For more information, go to http://help.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/faq/director 

Automatic enrolment: Pubs, clubs and restaurants at higher risk of non-compliance 

The Pensions Regulator recently announced that it has issued a large proportion of penalty notices to employers within the food and drink sector. This is a sector that typically employs a large number of temporary workers, and where non-standard contracts are prevalent, which in part explains the high levels of non-compliance. 

If your business is in this sector, then make sure you are aware of how automatic enrolment applies to you, what you need to do to meet your duties and by when. 

There’s plenty of information on TPR’s website on how to assess and enrol people who work varying hours, as well as translations of letter templates. 

British Chambers of Commerce International Trade Survey: Europe to remain key export market despite Brexit vote 

UK companies remain committed to strong trading relationships with European customers and suppliers despite the UK’s vote to leave the EU, according to the results of the most recent British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC) International Trade Survey. 

The results of the survey, based on the responses of nearly 1,500 business people, show that the UK companies surveyed continue to regard Europe as an important trading partner. Around three-quarters of respondents currently sell (76%) and source (73%) goods and services in the EU market.  

The findings show that over a third (36%) UK businesses plan on putting more resources into exporting to the European market over the next five years. Europe also remains the market where the higher percentage of businesses (18%) is planning on allocating more resources to sourcing products and services from. 

Responding to a question assessing whether the EU referendum has influenced their approach to exporting, nearly a third (31%) of businesses surveyed are looking to export more. The majority (65%) say the EU referendum hasn’t changed their strategy for importing, while 15% say that they are interested in sourcing more internationally. However, there are signs of caution, with 13% looking to source less internationally, which may be as a result of the falling value of the pound making imports more expensive. 

Thinking about future trade arrangements with Europe, UK companies surveyed consider the issues of tariffs; non-tariff barriers; and product standards, certification and compliance as the three top priorities for resolution in talks on a Brexit deal. 

Bank of England Agents’ Summary of Business Conditions February 2017  

The links to the Agents’ Summary of Business Conditions published recently on the Bank's Website are 

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/agentssummary/default.aspx 

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/agentssummary/2017/feb.pdf.

British Chambers of Commerce: UK exporters put in strong performance in final quarter of 2016

Commenting on the UK trade statistics for December 2016, released today by the Office for National Statistics, Mike Spicer, Director of Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: 

“The narrowing in the UK’s trade deficit in the final months of last year is a welcome improvement from the weaker performance in the previous quarter, and reflects a growing number of goods being exported to non-EU countries. As Brexit dominates the headlines, the results are an important reminder that UK companies take advantage of trading opportunities in every part of the world.  

“This performance comes despite the mixed reaction of exporters to the depreciation in Sterling – which our research has found is hurting as many as it is helping. Looking ahead, the continued weakness of the pound and the expected slowdown in economic growth will likely dampen demand for consumer imports. 

“In order to keep UK businesses trading with the world, companies need more direct support from government such as more investment in trade show access. But with margins under pressure, we need to see action at the Budget to reduce the upfront costs of doing business, particularly business rates. This will free up resource for businesses to invest in people and product development - absolutely necessary to taking full advantage of the growth opportunities in overseas markets." 

British Chambers of Commerce Monthly Economic Review 

The BCC Economic Review for December has been published, providing an easy-to-use commentary on the key domestic and international economic indicators for business. Note that word versions of this report are available on the Chamber knowledge hub. 

This month's headlines:

  • UK economy grew by 0.6% in Q4 2016 with services dominating GDP growth;
  • Falling value of sterling feeding through into higher inflation and squeezing real earnings; and 
  • GDP growth in the world's two largest economies - USA and China - slowed in 2016. 

The full BCC Monthly Economic Review

To discuss these and other policy issues, contact:

John Dugmore on john@suffolkchamber.co.uk

Nick Burfield on nick@suffolkchamber.co.uk