Coronavirus response dominates new Budget, print sector reacts

Rhys Handley
Thursday, March 12, 2020

Print sector figures have tentatively welcomed measures in the new Chancellor’s first Budget as policy was largely geared towards responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rishi Sunak announced his first Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 11 March
Rishi Sunak announced his first Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 11 March

Rishi Sunak delivered the Spring Budget in the House of Commons yesterday (11 March), announcing a £5bn emergency fund to support the NHS and public services in regard to the disease, now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

For businesses impacted by the spread, Sunak announced that workers in self-isolation would be entitled to statutory sick pay from day one and that firms with fewer than 250 staff would be refunded statutory payments up to two weeks. Small firms can also access 'business interruption' loans up to £1.2m.

BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold said: “The Federation is talking to our members constantly about the impact of coronavirus on their businesses and has set up a dedicated helpline. We were pleased to see measures announced today, including the government meeting the costs of statutory sick pay, tax payment holidays, loans and cash injections.

“We will be focusing over the coming days and weeks on communicating to our 1,300 members the support that’s available to them, and ensuring they are as resilient as can be during this difficult time.”

Alongside its extensive planning around Covid-19, the Treasury is also set to undertake a review of business rates, which will largely cover high-street businesses, as well as scrapping VAT on digital publications such as e-books and online newspapers from December.

Launceston-based KCS Print managing director Zoe Deadman said: “I’m not sure that dropping VAT on digital publications will do much to incentivise competition for print companies because digital and print products are already at different price points. I also think this business rates review needs to be widened out to manufacturers.

“In terms of coronavirus, these first steps are welcome. But when it comes to loans, we do not know the details yet so there’s a chance they’re just kicking problems into the long grass for now.

“I still think the biggest issue we need to address is support for people who are renting and may feel insecure about missing work at the moment. They may come into work even if they are sick, which puts businesses at risk. This Budget is playing to the Tory base of homeowners with its reassurances and needs to go further.”

Turning to the environment, Sunak’s budget confirmed a charge of £200/tonne on manufacturers and importers whose products are made up of less that 30% recycled material. The 'plastic packaging tax' will come into force as of April 2022.

Wolverhampton-based CS Labels managing director Simon Smith, whose company recently launched a flexible packaging offering, said: “Announcements on a plastic packaging tax were made in the previous Budget and it’s good to clarify that position and to focus people’s attentions on the issue.

“The next challenge is about how we recycle our plastics and improve those options. I hope we will see more joined-up thinking from the government as we cannot just keep offloading our plastic waste on third-world countries, we must find a solution within the UK.

“I hope that the review on business rates goes further than announced so far, as it is an unfair, broken system that needs a full overhaul for all businesses. Hopefully, that will come in the future months.”

Reflecting on the broader implications of the Budget for businesses, Forum of Private Business managing director Ian Cass commended infrastructure-based policies such as investment in rural broadband, railways and roads, as well as moving more Treasury operations to a new hub in the north of England.

“Several of the announcements from the Chancellor are in line with the wish list that we set out,” he said. “Business rates are a hugely disproportionate burden on small high street businesses and need to be completely reformed. The immediate relief is of course welcomed and appropriate, but we hope that the Chancellor won’t simply dismiss the issue once the Covid-19 crisis is through.

“Not directly addressing the late payment practices of big business is a big disappointment, and we believe that this will become a bigger issue in the coming weeks and months.

“Overall, we give the Budget a score of eight out of 10 as far as business is concerned, with the hope that the Chancellor’s full year report will score higher based on actual deliverables.”


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