Three billion pounds has been set aside for the Brexit process as the government prepares for "any possible outcome" and "a new future outside the European Union".
Delivering his autumn budget – his second of 2017 – Chancellor Philip Hammond said: "We are determined to ensure the country is prepared for any possible outcome."
It was one of the headline statements of his budget speech. He also promised to unlock £20bn of new investment in UK scale-up businesses, and pledged an extra £500m for 5G mobile networks, fibre broadband and artificial intelligence, setting out a vision for an economy that "is ft for the future and provides greater opportunities for the next generation".
An expected lowering of the VAT threshold from £85,000 did not materialise. Instead, the chancellor promised a review.
And he announced that business rates would be pegged to the lower Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation, not the Retail Prices Index (RPI), from next April – a move set to be worth £2.8bn to UK businesses. But business rates will be reviewed every three years, rather than every five.
Here's what the best business brains from Swindon and Wiltshire had to say about Autumn Budget 2017:
Ian Larrard, director, Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative at Business West
“Having announced a number of investment plans for cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, and regions including South West Wales and North East, Phillip Hammond, confidently declared that his Government is ‘delivering for every region in Britain’ earlier this afternoon.
“What with so many ambitious regional development plans put on the table, Swindon businesses can be forgiven for feeling a little bit left out of the Chancellor’s budget – a handful of national focussed investments aside.
“While stamp duty will no doubt hit the headlines, perhaps the most positive message from Government as far as Swindon is concerned is its commitment to a raft of measures to improve education, skills and the digital economy.
“The Chancellor said he wanted a new tech business to start every half an hour in Britain. If such an ambition were to become a reality (a few measures were mentioned that could help stimulate this) Swindon could benefit tremendously.
"Home to one of the largest high-tech companies in the world, in a prime location on the M4 high-tech corridor and with a burgeoning entrepreneurial community aided by developments such as the Carriageworks, Swindon is well and truly geared up to take advantage of the digital age.
“Equally as important is the Government’s recognition of the skills investment required to facilitate such growth. Working with employers on the apprenticeship levy, pledging extra support for FE colleges to implement T-Levels and a push on maths are all a step in the right direction that could have a direct benefit on youth unemployment in the town.
"Plans to work hand in hand with industry to get more computer scientists in schools, could also help give local education providers a much-needed boost.
“On a final note, measures to promote the use of electric cars, while not only benefitting air quality, should also play to one of our town’s emerging engineering strengths.
“We all know the great contribution that Honda and BMW have made in the town, but our involvement in the future of electric vehicles has gone somewhat under the radar.
“We’re home to Hydrogen Hub, an industry-led community of stakeholders from across the hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain. We have state of the art battery refuelling stations at Honda and shortly Johnson Matthey.
"We also have one of the biggest fleets of fuel cell cars per head of population. Furthermore, production of the new electric Mini will start in Swindon and Oxford in 2019.
“So, despite the lack of direct investment that some regions will benefit from, there were a number of new announcements that could work in Swindon’s favour in the medium and long-term.”
Richards Mathews, CEO, Optimum Professional Services
“It's good news for small businesses that the VAT registration threshold was not lowered. As always we need to see the detail but there were one or two pieces of welcome news, for example investment in electric vehicles and the well documented plastic tax.
"It was pleasing to hear Mr Hammond talk about SMEs as an important part of the economy.”
Mary Hoffman, director of legal services, Optimum Professional Services
"I welcome the news that stamp duty land tax will be removed for first time buyers and said plans to kick start house building and construction would be good for the economy as a whole."
David Beaumont, regional director for SME Banking in the South West at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking
“We spoke to local businesses ahead of the Autumn Budget and more than three quarters wanted the Chancellor to pledge further investment in transport and infrastructure, making today’s announcement welcome news for many business leaders.
“Last year, the Government announced £1.8bn investment to improve roads and railways, and many businesses will welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of the Housing Infrastructure Fund and the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy that plans to upgrade the country’s infrastructure.
“The package of support for housebuilders that was widely trailed before the Budget will be welcomed by businesses, especially those policies that are designed to help smaller developers share in the opportunities available. Anything that further boosts housebuilding has far-reaching economic benefits, particularly for SMEs.
“Action to simplify the planning system, allocate land to smaller developers and underwrite loans could all help to accelerate the pipeline of new homes in the South West.
“The measures announced to improve technology could give the region’s productivity a boost and businesses will be encouraged to hear the Chancellor announce further details about 5G coverage, particularly as more than two fifths (43 percent) of firms we spoke to wanted the Government to commit to improving broadband access across the South West.
“Business owners in the region will be able to further benefit from R&D tax relief with the Chancellor laying out plans to simplify the process."
Steph Rickaby, Sunflower Accounts
"As the Chancellor unveils extra funds and tax incentives for electric car drivers, many business owners or employees may ask if it’s worth having a company car.
"It can be if the vehicle Co2 emissions are under 75g/km for new and unused vehicles. The company can claim 100 percent first year allowance of the cost paid for the vehicle against profits.
"The employee will probably have a benefit in kind charge as a percentage of the vehicle list price. This is a little unclear as there have been mixed messages around this and the Chancellor wasn’t entirely clear around this either.
"For example if a vehicle costs £30,000:
Up to 50g/km CO2 - nine percent. 51 – 75g/km CO2 - 13 percent.
- The company will receive £5,700 of corporation tax relief (19 percent of £30K)
- The employee may still have to pay tax on a benefit of £2,700 (nine percent of £30,000). As a basic rate tax payer this will mean an annual tax charge of £540.
- The company will also have to pay 13.9 percent Class 1A national insurance on the benefit - £375
"Business owners need to consider the impacts carefully if investing in company vehicles including electric cars. Some accountants – like us - provide quick calculators online via an app to help a business owner make an informed decision."
Dominic Bourquin, corporate tax partner, MHA Monahans
Well, nobody could accuse the Chancellor of setting the world alight. But perhaps we should at least be grateful that most of us haven’t had our fingers burned with this budget, anyway.
"The good news for aspirational young house owners – and their parents, who as part of the Bank of Mum and Dad now form part of the ninth biggest mortgage lender in the UK – is that stamp duty on houses costing up to £300,000 is being abolished for first time buyers with immediate effect.
"And buyers in high cost areas, such as London and Oxford, won’t pay stamp duty on the first £300,000 of a purchase up to half a million pounds. So as of today, future first time buyers could redirect up to £5,000 towards a deposit instead of to the taxman.
"And to some extent, we’re all winners. Personal allowances will rise by £350 to £11,850 in April 2018, and the higher rate threshold will go up to £46,350 – an increase of £1,350 per annum.
"The national living wage will rise by 33p per hour to £7.83 – good news for lower paid workers, though a pressure on employers who may not be able to pass the 4.4 percent wage increase on to customers – and enabling timely access to Universal Credit makes absolute sense.
"Rumours of a dramatic fall in the VAT threshold were rife pre-budget, but for the next two years it will be held at the current £85,000.
"For small businesses such as domestic builders whose customers have to meet the cost of VAT themselves, rather than reclaiming it, this will be a huge relief, as crossing that threshold tends to make them far less competitive.
"However, it felt like a holding position – the Chancellor warned of consultation on whether the system can be redesigned, a phrase that usually ends up with no winners apart from the Chancellor.
"Business rates are, of course, a bugbear and by switching from using the Retail Price Index (RPI) measurement of inflation to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) by April 2018 - two years earlier than originally planned - he will reduce an unpopular fixed cost to businesses to some extent.
"One announcement that is of particular interest is about digital economy royalties that relate to UK sales but paid to low-tax jurisdictions – the so called Google or Amazon tax. It’s more of a statement of intent to make them subject to income tax – this step will only rise around £200m a year – but it signals a new direction in a ramped-up tax avoidance clampdown.
"So, what now? It was a bit of a something and nothing budget, perhaps driven more by politics than economics. Well, if you’re a smoker, there’s never been a better time to kick the habit, as you’ll see a 28 pence rise on your pack of 20s, though you can comfort yourself with a glass of wine – duty on most alcohol won’t rise.
"And if the budget and the weather are both too dreary for words, consider booking a short holiday – but don’t splash out too much. Short-haul air passenger duty rates are being frozen – as are long-haul rates for economy passengers. It might be a comfort to know that the people ahead of you who turn left in the plane have stumped up the difference instead."
Alex Minoudis, investment manager, Brewin Dolphin
"Starting with the bad news, the chancellor said: “Regrettably our productivity performance continues to disappoint.” "The Office for Budget Responsibility revised down the outlook for productivity growth, business investment and GDP growth.
"The OBR now expects the economy to grow by 1.5 percent this year, 1.4 percent in 2018, 1.3 percent in both 2019 and 2020, before picking back up to 1.6% in 2022.
"Having urged the government to stop tinkering with pensions we were relieved that the chancellor resisted the temptation to make major changes to the pension system.
"The annual allowance - the limit on the amount of pension contributions that can be made each year and qualify for tax relief – remained at £40,000. "The lifetime allowance will increase in line with inflation from £1m to £1,030,000 on April 6 next year.
"This allowance is the maximum amount of pension saving you are allowed to amass over a lifetime without incurring a tax charge. "The basic State Pension will be increased in April 2018 by three percent - a cash increase of £3.65 per week for the full basic State Pension.
"The full new State Pension, for anyone who reached state pension age after 6 April 2016, will rise by £4.80 per week.
"In April 2017 the annual Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowance increased from £15,240 to £20,000 – its highest level ever.
"The ISA annual subscription limit for 2018-19 will remain frozen at £20,000. However, the annual allowance for Junior ISAs and Child Trust Funds for 2018-19 will be uprated in line with CPI to £4,260.
"The chancellor had already said he will raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher-rate threshold to £50,000 by 2020-21.
"In the Budget, he announced that the personal allowance – the amount you can earn before paying income tax – will rise from the start of the new tax year from £11,500 to £11,850, in line with inflation.
"The threshold for the start of the higher-rate, 40% tax band will also rise with inflation from £45,000 currently, up to £46,350."
"With pensions and savings otherwise largely untouched (for now), we see this reprieve as a good opportunity to maximise your various tax allowances while you can.
"In our low interest-rate environment, making sure that your savings and investments are not needlessly depleted by tax is more important than ever.
"With careful planning you can build a tax-efficient financial plan that ensures you are making the most of the reliefs and allowance available to maximise returns on pensions, savings and other investments to secure your financial future."
Martin Gurney, tax partner, Haines Watts Swindon
"This was a ‘steady as we go’ Budget with no eye catching changes being announced.
"The R & D tax credits for large companies will increase from 11 percent to 12 percent from January 1, 2018.
"More importantly, the budget for R & D tax claims will be increased by a further £2.3 billion.
“This means all companies should focus their efforts on considering what, if any, aspects of their activities qualify for this valuable relief.
“Given R & D limits are set by the EU, post Brexit there may be a Brexit R & D dividend as the UK seeks to establish its position at the forefront of technological change.”
"Whispered changes to the VAT registration threshold failed to materialise, with the threshold remaining at £85,000 for the next two years.
“This is a welcome relief for small businesses who would have faced additional paperwork and real costs. Watch this space in two years’ time though, where we expect the threshold to be reduced significantly.”
“The Chancellor announced the axing of the staircase tax which affected thousands of small businesses occupying split workplaces.
"In respect of business rates, the Chancellor has sought to slow the rate of increase of these rates and have more regular revaluations, in order to avoid steep rises.
"It seems the Chancellor has responded to small business concerns on these points.
“The crackdown on marketed tax planning schemes and the APN (Accelerated Payment Notices) has generated a substantial amount of cash for the Government.
"Now, the Government is planning to extend the crackdown to any planning pre December 2009 and this could lead to significant cashflow issues for the affected businesses.”
Andrew Kilpatrick, managing director, Kilpatrick & Co
"The Budget brought a glimmer of good news for business ratepayers, with the chancellor announcing that the Uniform Business Rate for 2018/19 is to be based on CPI indexation instead of RPI indexation, which means that rates bills will increase by three percent, instead of 3.9 percent, from 1 April 2018.
"The chancellor also announced that future rating revaluations will occur at three yearly intervals, instead of the current five. So after 2022 the next national Rating Revaluation will be in 2025.
"Rate relief for pubs with a Rateable Value of under £100,000 is to be continued in the form of a £1,000 discount for a further one year from April 2018.
"The chancellor also announced retrospective legislation to deal with the so called ‘Staircase Tax’ reversing the Supreme Court decision that buildings in multiple occupation should be assessed on a floor by floor basis even when the same occupier was occupying adjoining floors.
"Affected businesses, including those who lost small business rate relief as a result of the judgement, will be able to ask the Valuation Office Agency to recalculate valuations so that bills are based on the previous practice and backdated to April 2010.
“Whilst the slightly reduced UBR is welcome, a three percent increase in rates bills is still a significant cost increase for businesses suffering from low sales growth and other cost pressures.
"The best news is the reversion of the ‘Staircase Tax’, which has affected many businesses across the country, particularly in multi-let office buildings and we look forward to helping businesses affected reclaim back the rates they were forced to pay by this change in rating law.
"However, unfortunately the chancellor has not addressed the current big issue in the rating world, namely the current intrinsically unfair transitional system imposed under the 2017 Rating Revaluation and the new Check, Challenge, Appeal system, which many businesses have already found to be unworkable, impossible to negotiate and which adds hours of bureaucracy and confusion to an already complex rates system.
"We urge the chancellor to tackle these big issues and not sweep them under the carpet.”