Could more gov’t spending aid print?

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, October 10, 2016

In his speech at the Conservative conference last week, chancellor Philip Hammond said he plans to treat investment spending differently to day-to-day spending. He is aiming to plough more into infrastructure, technology and innovation and said it was “common sense” to invest in supporting growth and jobs.

Hammond also pledged flexibility by scrapping predecessor George Osborne’s aim to meet the country’s budget deficit target by the end of the decade. Osborne had wanted to turn the deficit, including investment spending, into a surplus by 2020.

Hammond will present his first Autumn Statement to Parliament on 23 November but, for now, he has shared little detail about specific investment plans and it remains to be seen exactly how businesses might benefit.

One of the areas Hammond did talk in some detail about, however, was improving productivity, something BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold says the federation is hugely in favour of.

“We would like to see continued support to enable businesses to invest in both equipment and skills.

“In terms of supporting the health of the economy, flexibility is welcomed and in terms of developing the economy, focusing on encouraging businesses to develop skills and invest in productivity dovetail together.”

Jarrold says Hammond’s increased regional focus also makes sense and will help printers outside the capital.

“While London is a powerhouse because of the financial district, the reality is that we’re a large country and the print industry is spread across the country. The support for those businesses is key to creating a more balanced economy.”

He adds: “We would also support anything that incentivises innovation, such as R&D tax credits for example.”

Nigel Lyon, managing director of Birmingham-based Pinstripe Print Group, is hoping that the Annual Investment Allowance, which provides tax relief on business assets such as plant or machinery investment, will be upheld at its current level of £200,000.

“Maintaining the Annual Investment Allowance at a high level is pretty essential. The print industry has a lot of SMEs so £200,000 is not unreasonable I don’t think, because a lot of digital equipment costs less than that unless you’re talking about something like an HP Indigo.”

Lyon would also like to see more money ploughed back into the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) by the government. RGF grants have helped many printers to invest in new kit and take on more staff to expand their businesses since the initiative was launched in 2010.

No future rounds of the RGF are currently proposed, following the 2015 Spending Review, but there is still some RGF money available through programmes run by national or local organisations that were awarded RGF cash to offer grants or loans to eligible business.

“Investment is clearly critical and if you’re going to encourage people to actually invest then the government needs to offer some form of assistance, and that’s why RGF is quite useful,” says Lyon.

“If you’re managing to get 20% or even 25% [of the value of the investment] it makes a big difference as opposed to say 10% or 5%, particularly in an industry like ours where a lot of equipment is very expensive and needs to be changed quite quickly.”

Lyon adds that other existing grants could be widened in scope to help a larger range of businesses.

“We’re quite fortunate that through Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce we have some quite interesting grants available. 

“But I don’t think it necessarily helps for them to be as specific as they are about only allowing grants to areas where they are likely to help regenerate, for example only certain parts of Birmingham can get access to some of the grants.”

Tony Bates, managing director of Nottingham-based Fast Graphics, suggests that banks could help to decide the most suitable candidates for funding.

“Money seems to be haphazard in the way it’s spent and I think there should maybe be more sensible funding. There still seems to be funding available but only certain people are in favour and get it.

“It seems that you can be a certain style and in the spotlight and get every single resource whereas other people don’t even know that these things are available.”

Terrye Teverson, managing director of Launceston-based KCS Print, hopes more clarity will be given on whether the government will continue to help areas like Cornwall following Brexit.

“Cornwall has been given European funding because we’re significantly one of the regions that have suffered, with wages 28% below the average.

“Will this support continue or will firms in Cornwall start moving out and going to other areas where they are nearest to the markets, leaving unemployment high in these areas, which have really done well over the past 20 years?”

Teverson also hopes that the government will give out future grants based more on the quality of the jobs created rather than the quantity.

“By creating 10 minimum wage jobs to meet minimum criteria instead of two really top flight jobs, you’re not upskilling the workforce or really getting the key people. I think grants being dependent on the number of jobs you create is a very backward way of looking at the grant system.”

Most printers agree that a clearer economic plan is needed, certainly before formal Brexit talks begin. And while next month’s Autumn Statement could answer some of their questions, it’s likely to be a while longer before businesses will start to see exactly how the next few years might play out. 

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