Measures cautiously welcomed

Autumn Statement: industry reacts

Hunt: the UK's economic performance justifies tax cuts

Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement has been cautiously welcomed by print groups, with several of the chancellor’s 110 announced measures attracting particular praise.

Claiming victory over inflation and a better-than-expected debt forecast, the chancellor focused on incentivising private sector business investment through a range of targeted tax cuts.

Key among them for printers was the permanent extension of ‘full expensing’, first trialled in the pandemic as the ‘super-deduction,’ and introduced in April 2023.

Under full expensing, businesses can save up to 25% of their tax bill by investing in new machinery, or hardware like solar panels.

Printers and advocacy groups were united in their praise, with the BPIF and IPIA both highlighting it as the major achievement of the chancellor’s statement.

Charles Jarrold, chief executive of the BPIF, said: “We have been strongly advocating for the government to do more to support a stronger investment culture; it’s important for the economy as a whole, and especially for our sector, where ongoing investment is vital.

“The commitment to full expensing is good news, and shows the government does listen to the sector.”

Charles Rogers, IPIA chairman, was similarly pleased: “The IPIA has focused on advocacy for the extension and expansion of this specific policy since April 2023 – across multiple tiers of government – and we are very hopeful this will strengthen market confidence and stimulate long-term sector growth."

Simultaneously announcing an as-yet undefined £4.5bn in targeted incentives across UK manufacturing, Hunt likewise granted smaller businesses a year’s extension on the freeze on their Business Rates multiplier.

Printers were presented with one major rise in costs, however, with the uplift in the minimum wage by 9.8% to £11.44 per hour.

The raise was welcomed by printers and advocacy groups alike as a real boon to low-paid employees, alongside the two percentage point cut in employee National Insurance contributions from 12% to 10%.

While a welcome benefit for the lowest-paid employees, the uplift will add substantially to some printers’ payroll, with other employees understandably anxious about receiving a commensurate raise, according to Dominic Hartley, commercial director at Welsh commercial printer Lexon Group.

Speaking to Printweek, he added: “As much as we want to see the living wage increased, this does have an impact across the whole business, as all staff will expect to be treated in the same manner. In the past five or six years, the minimum wage has risen by 45%, and it will have an effect on wage inflation.”

Jarrold agreed: “Changes to the national living wage are difficult and contentious – as a sector we all want to see upskilling and consequent improvements in pay levels, but, the inflation linked increases to the bottom tier are causing significant business challenges in the sector as they feed into pay-scales through members’ businesses in order to maintain differentials.”

Other major measures included the closing of public sector payment terms to 30 days, throughout its supply chain – something that has been welcomed by printers, though not without scepticism of the government’s ability to police the policy.

One commitment that might make a real difference to some printers’ lives is Hunt’s pledge to cut National Grid access delays by 90%. 

Businesses whose expansion plans have been caught up in complicated grid proceedings will rejoice, according to Brendan Perring, the IPIA’s general manager.

He told Printweek: “This will be a massive benefit for some parts of the industry.

“This was raised as a specific point at the roundtable meeting we had at No 10 with the print and paper delegation.

“A major printer in the UK explained that they are constrained in being able to expand the factory space because of grid lead times – and that was agreed on by almost all the other businesses in that room.”

The reaction, overall, has been of mild positivity, with Jarrold calling the statement “marginally positive”.

He added: “Overall, we’ll give it a general “OK plus” rating – quite a few things to like, signs that our lobbying and representation efforts have registered, balanced by some aspects that we’re less comfortable with.”

The IPIA was more positive, but added that it would continue to push for further support.

Rogers said: “We urge any sector businesses that wish to provide feedback on trading conditions or the impact of government policies to do so. This information is kept confidential and is passed directly to The Government Department for Business and Trade."

For Paul Manning, managing director of Rapidity, however, the statement was somewhat of an anticlimax.

He told Printweek that with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) slashing its growth forecasts to less than 2% through 2025, it was hardly as thrilling an announcement as the government seemed to think.

He said: “Obviously, I’m happy about some of what they’re doing – but it’s hard then not to read the rest of the statement, and think ‘blimey, this is not how they portrayed it’.

“I’m generalising, but as a printer, to some extent your performance is determined by the rest of the economy. So to see the OBR downgrade growth and tax remain high at a base level, I think that’s fairly depressing still.”