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Caithness Chamber of Commerce Comment on Autumn Budget 2017

Commenting on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Budget 2017, Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:

“While this Budget was sold as having a strong focus on increasing investment and boosting productivity, we were disappointed by the lack of clarity as to how many of these investments will benefit businesses and communities in Scotland.

“Looking at the bigger picture first, it is concerning to see that the Office for Budget Responsibility has significantly downgraded its forecasts on productivity growth, business investment and GDP growth. This shows a worrying lack of confidence and resilience in the UK’s economy.

“We suspect this is in part due to the ongoing lack of certainty around Brexit – an uncertainty which today’s Budget sadly did little to address. That the Chancellor has set aside additional funding for Brexit preparations is welcome, but there remains a lack of detail around exactly what these preparations might entail.

“Moving on to more specific announcements, it is undoubtedly good news that Scotland should be receiving an extra £2bn as a result of today’s Budget. It is now up to Scottish Government to lay out concrete plans detailing how they will use this windfall to benefit businesses and communities across Scotland.

“The change in tax bands and the rise in personal allowance mean that Scotland – following the devolution of tax powers – will now be further out of sync than ever with the rest of the UK. Having a higher rate of income tax than the rest of the UK will make Scotland uncompetitive and unattractive to higher earners, and Scottish Government needs to closely examine and address this issue.

“Looking at transport, it is good news that the planned fuel duty rise has been scrapped, taking some of the pressure off already strained household and business budgets. We also welcome the Chancellor’s plans to significantly invest in electric vehicles. However, we need to see a clear roadmap from both the UK and Scottish Governments as to how we make the transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles and where this additional money will be spent.

“With regards to connectivity, again we are concerned about the lack of any concrete roadmap for the rollout of 5G mobile, despite the £500m commitment made to this. It is crucial that the UK Government recognises the utility of 5G to remote and rural areas such as the North Highlands, and makes a real commitment to ensure that we and other similar areas see the benefit of this investment.

“On a final note, we were pleased to hear the announcement of a VAT refund for Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service. We now call on these organisations to use this money towards better resourcing, as recent moves towards centralisation have resulted in major issues with negative impacts on areas like the North Highlands.

“In summary, little which can be seen to directly benefit the North Highlands and as ever, businesses need clarity to help them plan, invest and grow, something which was sadly lacking in this Budget.”