Industry reacts to Autumn Statement

The region's property and regeneration leaders scrabbled around among Osborne's dismal economic forecasts for good news to draw from the Autumn Statement. Here is a round-up of their findings.

David Lathwood, director and head of Jones Lang LaSalle in the North West, said: "The emphasis the Chancellor put on science, roads and education plays directly to the priorities for Manchester's own development, with improved transport infrastructure and the growth of our universities absolutely critical for the future of the regional economy. The reassurances he gave about High Speed 2 are welcome, as is the three-year empty rates exemption for new build commercial schemes, which should help accelerate the development of key sites in the region."

The Chancellor announced that following Lord Heseltine's report in October, LEPs can bid into a single pot created through funding that currently goes to local transport, housing, skills and getting people back to work. Details of the funding pot will be set out in a 2013 Spending Review.

Christine Gaskell, chairman of the Cheshire & Warrington LEP: "We welcome the news and increased support for the Local Enterprise partnerships and look forward to receiving more information at the spending review in early 2013. Increased financial backing for the Local Enterprise partnerships will greatly assist the delivery of our ambitious business plan to drive forward economic growth in Cheshire and Warrington."

Mike Palin, executive director of strategic economic development at Liverpool LEP, said: "LEPs are clearly at the forefront of the Chancellor's vision for economic growth in the cities and regions they represent. The Autumn Statement contained some positive messages including plans for LEPs working with partners to align skills, transport and housing funding going forward.

"We were also glad to see a focus on some key initiatives including £120m more of additional funding for the national Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative which was originally developed by our LEP as well as well as an indication that the City Region Employer Pilot scheme, included in our City Deal, may soon be announced.

"The statement also suggested a further round of Regional Growth Funds may be made available and we will work, as we have done before, to ensure that businesses in the City Region are well placed to take advantage of that."

Don Baker, chairman of rating at CVS, said: "By failing to lower business rates bills the Government has missed an opportunity to help the vast majority British firms to beat the recession. The Government needs to look again at the business rates appeals system to reduce the 240,000 backlogged appeals and help firms lower their bills swiftly and with confidence. These businesses need their over-paid money returned to them now, so the Chancellor has missed a trick by resourcing HMRC to target tax evaders but not resourcing the Valuation Office to clear the rates bill backlog.

"The current system is simply too slow and bureaucratic. Improving it would provide a lifeline for many SME firms who don't qualify for Small Business Rate Relief, and would cost the Exchequer very little. The Government is committed to reducing bureaucracy elsewhere and needs to do the same with business rates."

Martin Howard, partner at Knight Frank Manchester, commented: "The Chancellor has largely ignored the property industry's calls for reform of empty rates. This is in spite commissioning a review which was supported by the industry. It is difficult to see how it can be justified that existing empty developments pay full business rates whilst new developments are exempt for 18 months. We would call upon the Government to reintroduce the 50% relief for vacant properties until the economy recovers."

John Ogden, managing director of CBRE North West: "Much of the downgrading of GDP estimates for 2012 and the ongoing weakness of UK economic forecasts reflect the parlous state of private sector construction. The problems of private sector house building are well known but commercial and industrial construction has actually been responsible for a far bigger share of the fall in UK GDP since the start of the recession. Almost 50% of the loss in UK economic output since the beginning of 2008 can be attributed to a drop in private construction activity.

"It is to be hoped that the Chancellor's optimism for future business investment is reflected in an upturn in commercial and industrial construction work and that policies can be introduced to kick-start construction to assist recovery. Clearly, anything that simplifies and speeds up the planning process helps, and policies that assist the financing of the sector would be a positive move. If it does not, the construction sector will continue to act as a major drag on the economy for some time."

Andrew McFarlane, director and head of the North West office of Colliers International in Manchester: "No new tax on property is an unexpected welcome Christmas gift. It's good for domestic and foreign purchasers alike. In recent months many foreign investors have adopted a wait-and-see approach to investing in prime UK residential assets. Rumours of increased stamp duty, annual levies and Capital Gains Tax on disposals has impacted in recent months. These fears have now been dispelled.

"The announced funding to create 120,000 new homes is small in comparison to the 3m-plus new homes required by 2020. We would have liked to have seen a greater commitment from the Government here.

"Investment in flood defences is also welcome and should potentially mean more development of new homes in areas which have previously been 'undevelopable', allowing more sites to come forward."

Jonathan Hurst, Northern chairman and head of KPMG in the North West: "The Chancellor continues to try to hold back the tide of a growing North-South divide through commitments to extending high speed rail to the North West and Yorkshire, upgrade of the M1 to motorway standard to Newcastle and ultra-fast broadband in key cities across the country.

"While very welcome, whether these will suffice to offset the corrosive impact on the UK economy of business failures and joblessness disproportionately hitting our northern cities remains to be seen."

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