Budget 2020: Industry calls for action on Coronavirus

Industry experts call for action on digital skills, support to tackle the coronavirus crisis and urge the Chancellor to make SMEs a top priority in tomorrow's official budget

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 10 March 2020 10:12

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Tomorrow on the 11th March, the first budget under Boris Johnson’s majority government will be announced by newly-appointed chancellor Rishi Sunak. The party’s manifesto failed to give much detail on what we can expect to see from the budget, but we can be sure to expect impactful changes and infrastructure announcements. 

Changes to tax, pensions, housing and social care are all likely to feature, as well as increased spending in the north of England as the Conservatives look to reward the voters that helped the party take power in December’s election.

Having formally left the European Union and with the COVID-19 epidemic shaking markets globally, we can expect big announcements which will stabilise and impact British industries, so that our economy can weather any turbulence over the next financial year.

Experts from tech, business and finance sectors shared their thoughts on what they think might, and should, be a priority in the upcoming budget. 

Speaking to The Commentator, Jonathan Young, CIO, FDM Group said, “Tackling the UK’s digital skills shortfall should be a top priority for the Chancellor.

“With so many companies crying out for staff who are adept in specialist disciplines such as cyber, analytics and machine learning, it’s essential that businesses and the government work together to get more young people into STEM subjects.

Key to this effort is ensuring the next generation have access to inspirational speakers, innovative work experience placements and are correctly informed about the impressive pay, perks and career benefits associated with a job in the tech industry.

“Additionally, far too many graduates miss out on STEM careers due to the false assumption that a humanities degree disqualifies them from retraining on specialist tech courses. Nothing could be further than the truth, and this budget provides an opportunity for the Chancellor to promote a new era of upskilling and reskilling for new graduates and existing workers. Doing so will create a can-do culture across the country, inspiring millions of people to get excited about a new career in such as a critical and fast-growing area of the economy," added Young. 

Michael Haston, CEO, Leonne International, a leading private equity firm that specialises in supporting SMEs, comments: “With a majority government and the Brexit process complete, the time has come for the Chancellor to deliver a truly radical budget that empowers UK SMEs and drives job creation. With the coronavirus causing huge disruption and ongoing trade negotiations with the EU and US, it’s vital that the Chancellor gives companies the necessary support to keep the economy moving at a time of crisis. It’s time to ensure that entrepreneurs and business leaders are given the tax incentives, resources and support they need to take our country forward. Key to this is access to financial support, whether that be business loans or private equity backing.

Haston continued, "Far too many inspirational companies never reach their full potential due to a lack of access to finance to help them grow, hire and invest in the future. On Wednesday, the Chancellor has the opportunity to showcase his pro-business credentials to the nation. Doing so will provide underline the government’s commitment to backing a new generation of entrepreneurs and help turbo-charge the economy."

Sridhar Iyengar, Managing Director, Europe, Zoho, which has just launched its new online collaboration platform called Remotely, added, “With the Coronavirus causing disruption across the UK, many businesses have already initiated mandatory remote working policies and cancelled international travel plans. With post-Brexit trade negotiations at a critical stage, it is vital that companies remain productive despite the disruption.

Iyengar continiued, "Technology can play a key role in helping businesses to operate as usual, but far too many company owners lack the tools needed to make this happen. With this in mind, the Chancellor needs to provide more detail about his plans to support UK SMEs at this critical time, to protect jobs and offer guidance and support to concerned business leaders.”

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