Small business owners in the West Midlands were none too impressed with the measures announced for the sector in the Budget by Alistair Darling yesterday.
The Chancellor promised to boost small businesses by creating incentives for outside investment and doing more to improve workers’ skills. And he announced the creation of a capital fund – initially worth £12.5 million – to specifically encourage more women to become entrepreneurs.
But Russell Luckock, chairman of Birmingham-based pressworks company AE Harris, described the Budget as "very dull" for small business owners, adding it seemed like the Chancellor was more interested in making a good case for an upcoming election than he was in fostering successful business.
The one positive measure, he said, was the pledge to ensure 30 per cent of public contracts were given to small or medium enterprises, which would be a boost worth billions to the sector.
But there were problems even with this, he said, adding: "There's one caveat: there is a lot of paperwork involved in doing any work for the Government.
"I hope if the Government is going to honour this commitment that they will slim down the amount of paperwork required, otherwise it just won't be worth it."
Other business leaders complained about the effect new environmental restrictions and eventual fuel price rises would have on their profitability.
During the Budget the Chancellor said he wanted to make sure Britain remained one of the best countries in the world to do business in. And he said there would be consultation on "radical" new proposals to impose a limit on the amount of regulation that can be imposed by Whitehall departments.
The Government published a new 10-year strategy, backed by an extra £60 million of funding, to make the UK the most enterprising economy in the world and the best place to start and grow a business.
The strategy, titled Enterprise: Unlocking the UK's Talent makes a case for the creation of a National Enterprise Academy, offering skills training and qualifications to 16-19 year olds, support for young entrepreneurs, the over 50s and women.
It also includes a set of detailed measures promoting business mentoring, work placements, skills training, improved careers advice on self-employment and access to business support.
Business and Enterprise Secretary John Hutton said: "We want more new and growing businesses in the UK and more companies and people acting on their enterprising ideas.
"The UK’s long term prosperity lies in unlocking the talent of enterprise for people from all sections of society and in our small businesses, helping them to grow."
But some SME owners in Birmingham said he was being disingenuous by announcing new measures to simplify taxation and promote small business while at the same time refusing to lower capital gains tax.
And Giles Capon, human capital partner at Ernst & Young in Birmingham, said: "There is going to be a simplification of tax in the same way there was a simplification in capital gains tax, which will be fascinating, because a simplification doesn't always necessarily mean the tax bill will be going down."
The local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses said the Budget was unlikely to inspire entrepreneurship in the West Midlands, and many of the measures could actually end up severely damaging parts of the sector. West Midlands policy chairman Mike Cherry said: "This is a missed opportunity to restore any confidence that small businesses may have had in what the Government says and what it does.
"The announcements on the small firms loan guarantee scheme and public procurement issues appear to be worth welcoming, but it will have to be judged against what turns up in the fine print details.
"However, the swingeing alcohol duty increases, on beer in particular, will damage a growing sector of small businesses without tackling in any way the social problems connected to inappropriate drinking."
And some small business owners went even further, with Joyce Coakley, of MC (Edgbaston), saying: "It just isn't worth being an entrepreneur any more in the current climate. All I get is tax and more tax. The only tax I don't have any problem with is income tax because I don't seem to earn enough to pay it."