What was missing from the Autumn Statement?
As the Chancellor was making his Autumn Statement last week, we were ticking off the items from our list of expected policy announcements.
From a business perspective, the big-ticket item was making full expensing of qualifying capital expenditure permanent, which we welcomed.
However, tucked away in the Autumn Statement report, there was detail relating to a number of other important policy issues – where progress was less than we were hoping for.
The number of people who are inactive due to long term sickness or disability has continued to rise since the pandemic, reaching a record 2.6 million in the latest published data. We were hoping that the government might introduce tax incentives to encourage the uptake of occupational health schemes by employers.
However, all that was announced was the establishment of an expert group to develop a voluntary framework. This will set out the minimum level of occupational health intervention that employers could adopt to help improve employee health at work.
The Autumn Statement did not have a huge amount to say about training and skills shortages. A helpful measure would have been to allow sole traders to deduct the costs of reskilling into areas of national skills shortage from their tax bill. However, the government only committed to announcing that HMRC will rewrite guidance around the deductibility of training costs for sole traders and the self-employed – so there is greater clarity around what can be claimed for.
The government is still considering whether there is a case to extend full expensing to leasing. Currently, it can’t be deducted. The government is still trying to work out if the error and abuse risks associated with such an extension can be appropriately mitigated. It will publish a technical consultation in due course and consider consultation responses before reaching any final decision.
R&D tax credits
The government confirmed that the existing schemes will be merged from 1 April 2024. The new scheme is significantly less generous that the old SME scheme and will save the exchequer £285m per year by 2027/28. The government also warned that further action may needed to reduce high levels of non-compliance, and HMRC will be publishing a compliance action plan in due course.
However, there will be additional tax-relief for R&D intensive loss-making SMEs. The R&D intensity threshold to access this scheme will be reduced from 40% to 30%, bringing approximately 5,000 more R&D intensive SMEs into scope of the relief. The government also extended the tax breaks in the existing Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trust (VCT) scheme until 2035.
Contrary to expectations, there wasn’t anything in the Autumn statement about the introduction of a carbon border adjustment mechanism, although the government said it would report on this issue in due course. However, it did pledge to expand the business visitor rules to allow businesspeople to engage in a wider range of permitted activities and paid engagements from January 2024. Without going into detail, it also agreed to offer additional support to SMEs to access global markets through UK Export Finance, including reviewing the products available for SMEs and enhancing the SME-focused support that is offered.
We would have liked the government to have gone further in increasing the transparency around late payment practices. However, it will introduce a requirement that firms bidding for government contracts over £5 million demonstrate they pay their own invoices within an average of 55 days, tightening to 45 days in April 2025, and to 30 days in the coming years.