Page last updated at 19:07 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

PBR: Business experts react

Money

The pre-Budget Report was eagerly anticipated and saw some key policy changes - which prompted markets to soar and sterling to climb sharply.

Here is business reaction to some of the key announcements

VAT

VAT to be cut from 17.5% to 15% from next Monday for 13 months. The chancellor urges retailers to pass it on as soon as they can. Alcohol and taxes will not have their rates cut.

Analysis from Deloitte suggests that, even if the full 2.5% cut in VAT was passed on, it would only take 53p off a typical 50 shopping basket.

And the temporary cut in VAT from 17.5% to 15% was likely to have only a limited impact on lower income families, said Mike Lambourne, of Ernst & Young.

"With large elements of household expenditure such as essential food, domestic fuel and power, children's clothes, books and council tax not subject to the top rate of VAT, the impact on lower income families may be muted and it will be families with more disposable income who will feel the full benefit of these changes," he said.

Small retailers will find all this particularly difficult to accommodate
Steven Robertson, BRC

And it will take retailers some time to pass on the cuts, the British Retail Consortium said.

"Shops will cope, but implementing a new VAT rate in just a week will be exceptionally difficult for customers and retailers at their busiest time of year. IT system changes, replacing shelf labels and stickering-over prices on packs will be a mammoth and costly task. Staff will inevitably be diverted away from serving customers" said the BRC's chief executive Stephen Robertson.

"Small retailers will find all this particularly difficult to accommodate."

Online retailers may be in a position to act more quickly, and win customers with cheaper prices, said Ernst & Young's Mr Lambourne.

INCOME TAX

A new 45% higher income tax rate is proposed for earnings above 150,000 from April 2011 - hitting about 1% of tax payers. From April 2011 all rates of National Insurance contributions to be increased by 0.5% for all employees and employers.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said the chancellor had "changed the political debate by breaking the taboo that the super-rich should never pay more tax".

However Anglo American chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart said he could not see the move becoming "an election issue per se".

In a global economy with increased potential mobility this has serious implications
Patrick Stevens
Ernst & Young

"Anyone who has a job where he earns 150,000 a year will find it difficult to grumble about a 5% tax rise during an economic downturn," Sir Mark said, adding the actual income raised for the government from such a measure would be "small beer in the greater scheme of things".

But he added, "it's more of a signal that we are moving in another direction from other competitive economies".

Ernst & Young tax partner Patrick Stevens agreed, saying that "in a global economy with increased potential mobility this has serious implications in terms of maintaining the UK as an attractive place to live and work".

"The proposed increase in the top rate of income tax in the UK contrasts strongly with the global trend over the last decade and if introduced would mean that our highest earners will be taxed far higher that the EU average," Mr Stevens added.

Simon Atkins, the managing director of Biz Wiz Books, who advises sole traders and other very small firms with turnovers of less than 100,000, said the move was a "dreadful mistake".

Most entrepreneurs would not end up paying more because few reached the annual earnings threshold needed for the higher tax to kick in.

The biggest damage would come in the psychological impact such a tax hike would have, he argued.

"Entrepreneurs want to feel that if they get there, it won't be taken away from them," Mr Atkins said.

BUSINESS TAXES

Exemption for foreign dividends for large and medium sized businesses confirmed, introduced in 2009. Small firms to get a temporary increase in threshold for empty property relief. Also struggling businesses able to spread their VAT, corporation tax and NI contribution payments over a longer timetable.

"If I were marking the Chancellor's report card, I'd say 'could do better'," said David Frost, Director-General of the BCC.

"There are a few good announcements in there like deferment of the Small Business Rate of corporation tax, allowing businesses to spread out the payment of their tax bill, and the new business finance scheme."

I can't help feeling that the Government has missed an opportunity
David Frost, BCC

But he said that the proposal to increase National Insurance Contributions was wrong.

"At the very time when the economy should be coming out of the recession, businesses will face an extra tax on employing people. This is not the way to reduce unemployment.

"In the end this was billed as a fiscal stimulus to inject confidence into the economy. Time will tell if this has been achieved, but I can't help feeling that the Government has missed an opportunity."

Bill Dodwell, head of tax policy at Deloitte, comments on the Chancellor's announcement of momentous changes to the taxation of foreign profits of companies and, importantly, the setting of a new direction for further reform.

Companies being exempt from taxation on overseas dividends would benefit not only the corporate sector, but also funds, especially those managed by life companies," said Bill Dodwell.

This will be financed by a new restriction on the amount of interest expense that may be deducted against UK profits.

"The Chancellor has now accepted that it is appropriate to move UK taxation onto a territorial system - that is, only taxing UK source profits
Bill Dodwell, Deloitte

"In future, UK tax deductions will be limited to the total, worldwide, third party interest expense. In addition, current anti-avoidance rules on interest deductions will be strengthened. Finally, the requirement to seek advance permission from the Treasury for certain issues of shares and debt will be abolished, although there will be a new information provision requirement.

Mr Dodwell said the announcement of a consultation on the reform of laws which set UK tax on the profits of the overseas subsidiaries of UK groups, was particularly significant.

"The previous attempt at reform was not well received and led to some UK-headquartered companies moving to Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda," he said.

"The Chancellor has now accepted that it is appropriate to move UK taxation onto a territorial system - that is, only taxing UK source profits." But it may take up to two years before the new system becomes law, he added.

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