How much did Philip Hammond’s giveaway Budget help dying town centres? Not enough, say campaigners, but let’s give the Chancellor some credit. A one-third relief in business rates for retail properties with a rateable value of less than £51,000 means an annual saving of up to £8,000 for a huge number of small businesses; pubs where people still drink beer and spirits in old-fashioned style benefit from a duty freeze that one industry body says will ‘secure upwards of 3,000 jobs’; and there’s money to help convert disused premises into homes.
On the other hand, there was a £3 billion sting for the growing army of freelance ‘consultants’ and techies who contribute so much to the new urban economy but whom the Treasury suspects of helping companies that hire them to avoid payroll taxes. IPSE, a lobby group for the self-employed, called it ‘a short-term tax grab that will do lasting damage… by taxing out of existence the smallest and most agile businesses’. I suspect that’s right: abuse may be curtailed, but with too much collateral damage to those genuinely trying to go it alone.
Then there’s the ‘digital services tax’, aimed at the online advertising revenues of the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter, but not at direct sales by Amazon et al. Even the Chancellor’s own figures say this will raise only £400 million a year: a Labour MP called it ‘pathetically tokenistic’. At best it’s a stumbling step in a direction other governments will follow, but I doubt it will make a jot of difference to the ragtag rearguard of bricks-and-mortar shopkeepers.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s Any Other Business, which appears in the forthcoming issue of The Spectator