Business leaders hail Chancellor for helping SMEs with apprentices

Tim Pile

Business leaders in Greater Birmingham have hailed a £100m capital injection into the West Midlands housing sector as an important boost for the region’s economy.

In one of his few funding announcements, during an otherwise policy-free Spring Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed the Government had struck a deal to channel an additional £100m into the West Midlands to support plans for the construction of 215,000 new homes.

The £100m, released through the Land Remediation Fund, will support the clean-up of contaminated land around priority sites, focused mainly on the Walsall to Wolverhampton corridor, with the intention of delivering at least 8,000 homes.

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “We are well aware that having an affordable and attractive place to live with good links to employment opportunities is a vital part of being able to attract and retain talent and staff in the region. Kick-starting further housebuilding in this way is a welcome move.”

He was supported by Tim Pile, chair of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), who added: “Locations like Greater Birmingham and Solihull must offer the right accommodation for our residents, if we are to meet increasing demand for local homes. The West Midlands’ new housing deal with Government will help to attract and retain our most talented workers, helping this region to remain internationally competitive.”

The Chamber has also welcomed the move to allocate further funding to help firms prepare for the new technology-led T Levels and efforts to boost the take-up of apprentices.

“The announcement of new funds on preparing employers for T Levels and helping SMEs take on apprentices was good news,” said Mr Faulkner.

“We will be informing our members of how they can best benefit from these opportunities as the detail becomes clear.”

Mr Pile added: “The announcement that the Government has allocated £80m to help smaller firms support and deliver apprenticeship schemes should make a positive impact on regions like Greater Birmingham and Solihull, which has one of the youngest populations in the UK.

“We are working closely with Government and other national organisations to ensure that the expertise of our workforce will help SMEs thrive here.”

Likewise, Johnathan Dudley, Midlands managing partner and National Head of Manufacturing at Crowe Clark Whitehill, welcomed the support offered for SMEs to take on apprentices.

“Support for SMEs was something we had called on the Chancellor to prioritise when drafting his Spring Statement,” he said.

However, business leaders have also called for the Chancellor to take more decisive action on business rates in the Autumn Budget, especially to ease pressure on high street retailers.

Mr Hammond vowed to reduce business rates by £10bn and bring forward the first wave of triannual revaluations to 2021.

Mr Faulkner said: “The Chancellor has not gone far enough on business rates. We have seen consistently in recent weeks just how hard hit our high streets are by rising rates.

“Many other businesses reliant on physical space also share retailers’ pain. The time for tweaks around the edges on business rates is over, in this digital age businesses need a fundamental overhaul of this outdated input tax based on bricks and mortar if we are to retain and grow vibrant business and retail centres.

“We urge the Chancellor to make this a priority in his Autumn Budget.”