November 2018 Policy Update


The Upper Orwell Crossings

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has written to Roads Minister Jesse Norman MP to confirm our continuing support for the development of The Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and to add our voice to that of Suffolk County Council as they seek to negotiate with DfT, and other public partners, to secure the additional funding that is needed to deliver the project.

The letter urges the Department for Transport to view sympathetically Suffolk County Council’s case for additional funding beyond that already committed through the local majors’ fund.

The Suffolk Chamber letter can be read here

Lower Thames Crossing consultation: have your say

A major new road linking Kent, Thurrock and Essex would nearly double road capacity across the river Thames and almost halve northbound journey times at Dartford Crossing, under updated plans recently released by Highways England.

The multi-billion pound project will connect communities, boost the economy and add vital extra resilience to the road network while reducing pressure on the existing Dartford Crossing. It is set to be the most ambitious road project since the M25 opened 30 years ago and will include the UK’s longest road tunnel.

47,000 people had their say in a previous consultation on the proposals – a record for a UK road scheme. A new, ten-week consultation on the latest designs for the improvements will start on Wednesday 10 October and run until Thursday 20 December.

The improved proposals published today include:

  • Making the whole route a three-lane dual carriageway to improve traffic-flow;

  • A new rest and service area to the west of East Tilbury;

  • A new design for the Tilbury junction, removing the proposed Tilbury link road to reduce traffic on the local road network; and

  • An improved junction with the A2.

The 14.5 mile route connecting Gravesham in Kent and Thurrock in Essex is expected to reduce traffic at Dartford by 22 per cent with 14 million fewer vehicles using it every year. It will almost halve the morning peak average journey times between M25 junctions 1b and 31 from nine minutes to just five.

Highways England presented on the Crossing to the 16 October meeting of the Suffolk Chamber Transport and Infrastructure Board and Suffolk Chamber will respond to the current consultation.

The Highways England website contains all the consultation materials and project information as well as a consultation response portal for people to ‘have their say’. In addition, you can download more pictures of the Lower Thames Crossing here, and the Lower Thames Crossing fly-through video here.

Prime Minister letter to British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)

In response to a number of concerns raised by BCC about the Brexit negotiations, the Prime Minister has written to BCC setting out her Government’s intentions regarding, amongst other things, labour mobility and frictionless trade.

A copy of the Prime Minister’s letter can be read here.

Updated Business Brexit Checklist and Risk Register

While some companies are already planning for the challenges and opportunities ahead, Chambers of Commerce believe that all firms – not just those directly and immediately affected – should be undertaking a Brexit ‘health check’, and a broader test of existing business plans.

While the final settlement between the UK and EU remains to be agreed, there are steps that firms of all sizes can take now to start planning for the future. Our Business Brexit Checklist and Risk Register will help companies consider the changes that Brexit may bring, and help to plan at both operational and Board level.

You will always be able to find the latest version of the Business Brexit Checklist and Risk Register on the BCC website.

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) 2018 Autumn Budget Summary

In advance of the 2018 Budget the BCC has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposing seven radical measures to bolster business investment, competitiveness and productivity in the face of Brexit headwinds – without which business communities across the UK will be ill-equipped to overcome the significant period of change that lies ahead:

  • An exceptional ‘Brexit Investment Incentive’ – with the Annual Investment Allowance boosted to £1m to ‘crowd in’ both domestic and international investment – and stem the weakening in business investment in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

  • Introduce a Business Rates Investment Incentive – ease the drag effect of this uniquely iniquitous business tax on investment by providing a 12-month delay before rates are increased when an existing property is expanded or improved and also before rates apply to a new build property.

  • A commitment to no new taxes or costs on businesses for the remainder of this parliament - giving businesses the headroom to adjust to Brexit and to invest, recruit and grow.

  • Deliver real UK-wide reform to the apprenticeship levy and drop SME co-funding for apprenticeships in England – to ensure that the training system works for everyone and eases the UK’s chronic skills shortage.

  • Delay the roll-out of Making Tax Digital for all businesses by one year – to provide HMRC and businesses with the headroom to prepare for this major change to the way tax is collected.

  • Abandon the uprating of business rates for the next two financial years for all businesses on the high street in town and city centres - to ease the financial burden on struggling businesses as they go through significant structural changes.

  • Provide the funding needed to achieve full mobile coverage along transport corridors (road and rail) – a crucial step to improving digital connectivity and productivity for businesses that need to communicate with new and existing customers, suppliers and employees.

£19m call for capital projects

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is making a £19m call for capital projects which will boost skills and productivity in the East.

The new call has a specific focus on delivering the ambitions of the Economic Strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk. The Strategy sets ambitious targets for the area, including growing our £35bn economy by £17.5bn in real terms by 2036, creating 88,000 new jobs and 30,000 successful new businesses and making measurable improvements to skills and productivity in the two counties.

New Anglia LEP has signed a £290m Growth Deal with Government, which has helped to fund more than 30 projects across Norfolk and Suffolk since 2014, ranging from infrastructure and flood defences to innovation centres and business support programmes. This total investment is forecast to attract £628m extra investment over the next ten years. 

Following detailed analysis of the LEP’s Capital Growth Programme to date, the call for new projects will have a specific focus on the themes of Skills, Innovation and Productivity.

More information on the LEP’s Growth Deal with Government, including current projects and FAQs, can be found at newanglia.co.uk/growth-deal/. Guidance information can be found here.

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC): Ease Brexit uncertainty to boost innovation through trade

  • Half of businesses surveyed say that Brexit is making it difficult to decide whether to import or export, hampering British trade;

  • Volatility of sterling is also causing concern;

  • BCC has long been calling for clarity for business on the practical questions over Brexit.

A survey by British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with DHL Express UK, has today revealed that almost half – 49% – of businesses have uncertainty over Brexit front of mind when deciding whether to trade internationally, highlighting the economic cost of the persistent lack of political clarity.

A similar number (48%) of firms are concerned by the related issue of exchange rate volatility, which can increase the cost of raw materials and potentially make UK exports less competitive. Exchange rate volatility is a much greater concern for manufacturers (61%) and B2C firms (64%) than B2B businesses (36%).

As EU leaders gather in Brussels, the BCC today brings together 500 exporters, trade professionals and business leaders from around the world at the BCC International Trade Summit to discuss the issues and trends at the forefront of international trade, and to give innovative firms the tools they need to enter new markets.

The research also shows that while there are many concerns for businesses when deciding whether to trade internationally, those that do trade internationally are more likely to be innovative within their business – 65% of those that are internationally active have launched a new product or service in the last 12 months, compared to just 41% of firms who are UK-focused.

Government must do more to boost business confidence at the Autumn Budget and incentivise export and import growth. This, coupled with clear progress in negotiations, will encourage firms to take risks and break into new markets, boosting innovation and productivity in the UK economy.

Major BCC survey finds investment and recruitment would be cut in the event of Brexit ‘no deal’

One of the biggest surveys of business intentions since the EU referendum has found that nearly two-thirds of firms still aren’t preparing for Brexit – and in the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome many would cut investment and recruitment plans.

With just six months to go before the UK leaves the EU, the British Chambers of Commerce is calling for UK ministers to redouble their efforts to reach an agreement with the EU – and ensure a transition period that could help firms prepare for change and prevent a slump in both investment and recruitment. The leading business group presses the need for clarity and precision so that firms can plan for the future with a degree of confidence.

  • A fifth of businesses surveyed (21%) will cut investment if there is ‘no deal’, 20% will move part or all of their business to the EU and 18% will cut recruitment – but in the event of a status quo transition these numbers fall dramatically; and

  • 62% of firms still haven’t completed a Brexit risk assessment.

Larger firms and those who are internationally active are the most exposed to the ramifications of ‘no deal’. 28% of firms with over 50 employees and 24% of those who export or import internationally say they would cut investment plans.

The fact that one in five businesses (20%) say in a ‘no deal’ scenario they would move part or all of their business to the EU27 is an important wake-up call – both on the need to agree an orderly exit from the EU and on the need for the UK government to enhance incentives for investment.

Technical advice to Government on improving mobile coverage

Ofcom has technical advice to Government on further options to improve mobile coverage, following a request from Government earlier this year.

The advice was originally submitted to Government in June 2018, and uses a snapshot of mobile coverage data from January 2018. It provides technical analysis of options to improve mobile coverage, such as public subsidy, rural wholesale access (commonly known as rural roaming), infrastructure sharing and planning reform.

The Government will consider the advice and decide on any further steps it wishes to take.

icanbea

icanbea is the online platform that showcases career opportunities directly to young people in Norfolk, Suffolk and beyond and has been developed with a view of helping young people when deciding upon their future career. It is filled with information about industries and local employers with text, images and videos showing job roles, career paths, live career opportunities and a ‘careers wizard’ game for students who are unsure of their next steps.   The site is set in a social media style which allows users (young people) to like and follow the industries and organisations that they are interested in, creating a personalised page tailored to their interests and allowing them to receive notifications of real job opportunities as and when they become available.

This is the link for you to view it is here and there is also a mobile app available in both the App store and Play store.

Local organisations or organisations with a local presence are offered the opportunity to take a free profile page on icanbea… where they can advertise their vacancies which could be apprenticeships, work experience, volunteering, graduate schemes, general vacancies or courses.  It’s a great way of advertising your vacancies for free and showing young people what opportunities you have to offer.  There are over 260 organisations profiled on icanbea so far from large employers such as Aviva, EDF, BT to smaller independent businesses.

If interested icanbea would be very happy to create a profile page for your organisation by taking text and images from your website which they would then send to you for approval before making it live on icanbea. Once you are completely happy with the page they will send details of how to login and make your own posts and amendments or icanbea can continue to do this for you if you prefer. Please contact richard.finn@themasontrust.org if interested.

Party Conference Roundup

At both Party Conferences British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) held successful private dinners with HSBC, with guests including Ministers and Shadow Ministers, representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister and from the wider chamber network. 

BCC also shared platforms with Minsters, on policy from post Brexit trade policy to apprenticeship reform and also met senior politicians to share a commitment to an open and constitutive dialogue between Chambers and Parties.

At Labour conference, the Shadow Chancellor outlined plans for wholescale nationalisation and business restructuring.  BCC will continue to challenge any proposals for sweeping nationalisation and the imposition of Governance changes which could stifle business confidence, investment and growth.

It was encouraging, however, to hear the Shadow Business secretary talking about concrete measures to support high streets in our towns and cities during a period of momentous technological change.

At Conservative Conference, BCC was delighted that the chancellor heeded BCC calls for larger firms to be allowed to transfer unused levy funds down to their supply chain which will help more SMEs to access high quality apprenticeships and close the growing skills gaps.

BCC was concerned, however, by the Home Secretary’s plans to make changes to the immigration system, following the publication of the MAC report. Proposals include a focus on highly-skilled migrants and increase in the minimum salary threshold. Ministers must recognise that businesses in every corner of the UK are facing skills gaps at every level.

The test of the government’s new immigration policy will be whether they allow business to access skills and talent quickly and easily.

A full roundup of BCCs responses to announcements at both conferences can be found here.

Apprenticeship Transfers

Last month, British Chambers of Commerce brought together businesses and the DFE’s Director of Apprenticeships to discuss the need to lift the cap on Apprenticeship Transfers and allow Levy payers to pass more of their unspent Levy funds to SMEs in the their supply chain.  The Government has now increased the transferrable percentage of funds from 10% to 25%.

Quality of Apprenticeships/Report

BCC gave evidence to the Education Select Committee in January, highlighting the need to improve flexibility around the use of the Apprenticeship Levy and the 20% off the job training.  We said the government needed to boost businesses confidence in the system by ensuring that training providers are quality assured and that regulators are properly resourced for the job.  These points are acknowledged in the Committee’s Report and Recommendations

Sector Skills Plans

The last of several sector skills plans have now been developed for each key growth and employment sectors in Norfolk and Suffolk. Each plan identifies barriers to providing each sector with a sufficient supply of skills required now and in the future and provides recommendations for addressing these requirements. These plans are intended to help inform and align the development of skills and employment related policies and initiatives in both the public sector and private industry. Some of these plans (and accompanying data packs) have already been published on the New Anglia LEP website.

National Skills and Employment Survey Published

The survey collects data on what people do at work, what skills they use and how they work.  The results have been published in 6 reports covering: productivity, skills trends, fairness at work, work intensity, participation and insecurity.  The reports are available on the project web site (www.cardiff.ac.uk/ses2017).

Automatic Enrolment – how do workplace pensions work?

More than 1.2 million employers have now successfully met their automatic enrolment duties and put nearly 10 million staff into a workplace pension. 

Workplace saving is now the social norm with 84% of staff now saving, and automatic enrolment has reached steady state with around 100,000 new businesses a year putting staff straight into a pension. 

However, automatic enrolment has ongoing tasks which must be completed to ensure employers continue to comply with the law, and staff continue to receive the pensions they are entitled to.

Ongoing duties include monitoring the age and earnings of staff, keeping records, managing requests to leave or join a pension scheme and maintaining pensions contributions.  More information about ongoing duties can be found here.

Every three years, employers must also complete re-enrolment which means enrolling all eligible staff who are not currently members of a workplace pension, into a scheme. They must then complete a re-declaration of compliance.

Last April, the minimum pensions contributions increased from 3% total contribution to 5% and next April it will increase again to 8%.  This is a straight forward task for employers, but they should ensure the correct amount is being paid into the pension scheme.  We have been monitoring compliance with the increase in April through PAYE data provided by HMRC, and indications are that it is very high.

As published in the recent Automatic Enrolment Commentary and Analysis report, compliance with the law is high.  Research shows the vast majority of employers are aware of and understand their ongoing duties, find them easier than expected and are confident they can complete them.  Most employers spend less than two hours a month on their ongoing tasks and one third use a business adviser. 

However, there are a small minority who fail to meet their ongoing duties and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) will take action, including issuing financial penalties.

There are a number of ways TPR can detect non compliance. These includes monitoring contributions to ensure employers are continuing to make the correct payments, alerts from pension schemes, reports from whistleblowers and compliance validation checks.  

Between April last year and April this year TPR carried out nearly 2,000 compliance validation exercises, or ‘spot checks’ nationwide.  Employers were identified through data and intelligence analysis and scheduled for either desk-based investigation or an inspection in person. Employers targeted included those TPR believed may be non compliant and those where data suggested full compliance.

Where TPR found an employer was non compliant, their case teams took a positive approach and worked to help them. In many cases, employers welcomed the opportunity to show how they had complied and ask questions to ensure they were carrying out their duties correctly.

TPR knows that most employers want to do the right thing for their staff and are there to help, but TPR will take action where an employer is non compliant to ensure staff receive the pensions they are due and the culture of workplace saving remains strong. 

Useful links for employers:

AE guide for employers: www.tpr.gov.uk/employers

Ongoing duties guidance: www.tpr.gov.uk/ongoing

Declaration of compliance: www.tpr.gov.uk/declaration

Compensation for price-fixing by EU truck manufacturers

The Road Haulage Association is launching a not-for-profit, collective compensation claim against EU truck manufacturers which the European Commission has ruled operated a price-fixing cartel. Any company, firm, or individual that since January 1997 purchased or leased trucks registered in the UK for road haulage (hire and reward and own-account) can apply to join.

For more information contact: www.truckcartellegalaction.com or truckcartel@rha.uk.nete.

You can view further information here.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) call for projects

MHCLG have announced the new calls for this autumn.  The calls are for ERDF projects as part of the 2014-2020 Growth Programme.

For organisations within New Anglia,  these calls are for Innovation and Business Support- related projects.

Links to the calls and associated documents can be found here:

Research and Innovation: call in New Anglia (OC24R18P 0804)

SME support: call in New Anglia (OC24R18P 0805)

The deadline for outline applications is 23 November 2108.

Network Rail Survey

Network Rail has launched a listening programme to put passengers and freight at the centre of everything that they think and do. They are keen to gather information about a number of important areas including areas including safety and efficiency.

They are keen to get a broad range of feedback to help shape changes to Network Rail to make us more passenger and business focused. The survey can be completed here. The closing date is 8th November.

Consultation on ethnicity pay reporting

BEIS has launched a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting by employers with a closing date of 11 January 2019.

It sets out options and asks questions on:

What ethnicity pay information should be reported by employers to allow for meaningful action;

Who should be expected to report; and

Next steps.


Labour Planning Commission

The Labour Party have launched a planning commission with the aims of helping to revive neighbourhoods and town centres in decline, and address the urgent need for better infrastructure. The Commission will be travelling around the country meeting with planners, developers, and residents to hear from local people how the planning system affects their work and lives. A full schedule of their regional meetings can be found on the commission website.

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Monthly Economic Review - October 2018

BCC has published its Monthly Economic Review for October . This briefing is an easy-to-use analysis of the key domestic and international economic indicators for business.

This month's headlines:

UK GDP Growth over the first half of 2018 was the weakest in seven years;

The latest BCC QES indicates that growth remained subdued in the third quarter of 2018; and

US interest rates rise again as rates in Argentina hit 60%.


To discuss these and other policy issues, contact:

John Dugmore on john@suffolkchamber.co.uk

Nick Burfield on nick@suffolkchamber.co.uk