Employer-led academies, a £100 million future workforce grant and a 50-year infrastructure programme are among the policies being called for by business groups ahead of next week’s Budget.
Chancellor George Osborne finally has growth on the horizon as he prepares for his fifth Budget announcement next Wednesday – and the region’s chambers of commerce are calling on him to make the most of it.
Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) are pressing the Chancellor to focus on skills, business rates and the devolution of infrastructure investment, while the Black Country Chamber wants to see a revolution in education and training, putting companies at the heart of growth.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of the GBCC, said in a letter to Mr Osborne that structural economic problems persisted and the Budget provided an opportunity for the Government to address the skills deficit – “one of the most critical barriers to economic growth in the West Midlands”.
He added: “Birmingham has long suffered from a structural unemployment problem and has among the highest proportion of residents with no formal qualifications.
“We have to encourage schools and colleges to provide routes into employment based on a better understanding of what business needs.”
GBCC is calling on Government to:
l Give employers the choice between direct funding for apprenticeships through PAYE tax breaks and directing funding to their chosen training provider.
l Introduce a new £100 million Future Workforce Grant scheme – a £1,000 payment to businesses who hire long-term unemployed young people or a new apprentice, to create 100,000 new jobs in 2014.
l Increase tax relief to encourage investment in young entrepreneurs through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) from 30 per cent to 50 per cent for investors in businesses run by under-24s.
Mr Blackett said the GBCC welcomed the announcements in the Autumn Statement as an important first step for business rates reform but he urged the Chancellor to take further measures to ensure that Greater Birmingham maintained its status as an excellent place to do business.
However, the postponement of the business rates review to 2017 means many businesses are paying business rates on properties based on their value at the time of the last rates review in 2008.
Mr Blackett added: “Naturally, with the financial crisis and recession, property prices have changed significantly since then. In places such as central London rents and commercial property values have increased far greater than the national average.
“However, in the West Midlands they have decreased. This has created an unnatural incentive for businesses to set up, move to and expand in areas where business rates are artificially low and move away from those that are artificially high, thus harming the rebalancing agenda.”
On devolution, Mr Blackett said there remained a considerable gap between public transport spend in London, where it is £545 per person, and the West Midlands, at £202 per person.
Elsewhere, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce has called for radical reform for this part of the world to enjoy the growth experienced in the South East.
* A revolution in education and training including employer led academies and local apprenticeship trailblazers.
* A comprehensive review of fuel duties and ‘green taxes.’
* The start of a 50-year investment programme in infrastructure that assures alignment in national transport and economic strategies.
* Close the trade gap by altering some of the dynamics of demand.
* Faster resolution to local burdens on businesses such as business rates, sign posting, regulation and enforcement.
Louise Bennett, chief executive of Coventry and Warwickshire chamber, said firms want the Chancellor to deliver a Budget that will help to secure economic growth.
She said: “This is a chance to really make a dent in youth unemployment and offer incentives to companies who take on young people either from long-term unemployment or as an apprentice.
“We speak to companies all the time who are keen to take on young people and a scheme such as this would offer support until such time that the National Insurance exemption for under-21s comes into effect in 2015.”