George Osborne introduced a £2,000 employment allowance, which allows a third of all employers paying ‘no jobs tax at all’
Up to 450,000 small businesses will no longer pay national insurance contributions from next year, the chancellor claimed on Wednesday in what he described as “the largest tax cut in the budget”.
But even as George Osborne set out measures intended to boost cash-strapped small businesses, he faced criticism for not holding off on planned increase in business rates.
He introduced an employment allowance which removes the first £2,000 off the employers’ national insurance contributions, which he said was taking a “tax off jobs”.
The allowance will cost almost £6bn over five years, and means that a third of all employers in the country are paying “no jobs tax at all”, said the chancellor.
“For the person who’s set up their own business, and is thinking about taking on their first employee – a huge barrier will be removed. They can hire someone on £22,000, or four people on the minimum wage, and pay no jobs tax,” he said.
But the tax change is not expected to come into effect until next year, and the cut to corporation tax for big business to 20% by 2015 brings the rate into line with the one small business are charged for the first time since 1973.
Roy Maugham, tax partner, at accountants UHY Hacker Young, warned that the unification of the corporation tax rate could have implications for small businesses. “The concern is that small businesses will be tripped up by what is not explicit in the budget. Currently, companies on the main rate will pay corporation tax in quarterly instalments, while smaller companies will pay once a year. Unifying the rates implies that small companies will now be expected to pay corporation tax every quarter,” Maugham said.
While the Forum of Private Business welcomed the change, the lobby group’s head of policy Alex Jackman said: “Our only disappointment with this is that it’s 12 months away, and that’s a mighty long way off”.
Jackman had hoped for a reduction in business rates – which will have risen 13% in three years after April’s planned 2.6% rise. Retailers reckon this could cost £175m a year.
“Ask any small businesses what they wanted to see from this budget and many will have said: ‘action on business rates’,” added Jackman.
The British Retail Consortium, which represents high-street stores, had also hoped for action on business rates: “Pressing on with a third-successive substantial business rates rise is very disappointing. Freezing rates would have made a real difference to our troubled high streets and the communities that rely on them.”
With lending to small businesses down 25% in real terms since its peak in 2009, and almost 10% lower than in 2006, small businesses were also eager for information about the business bank that has been advocated by the business secretary, Vince Cable.
More details are due to be unveiled on Thursday when it is expected that the government will concede that the state-backed bank will not become a fully-functioning entity until autumn 2014 while it waits for state aid approval from Europe.
Until then, it will operate from Cable’s department for schemes that do not need state aid approval and is likely to reiterate that no additional funding on top of the £1bn allocated to the business bank will be made. But details of how the funding will be allocated is expected to include £75m of venture capital and £25m to extend the existing enterprise capital fund programme.
Cable, who has also been pressing for changes to the existing funding for lending scheme intended to reduce the cost of borrowing for small businesses, regards the business bank as the central plank of his industrial strategy.
Little detail was provided about how the funding for lending scheme, operated by the Bank of England, might be tweaked to have more of an impact on encouraging lending to small businesses.
Osborne also pressed ahead with his plan to create a John Lewis-style employee share ownership by allowing workers to surrender employment rights in return for shares worth up to £50,000 in their companies. Even as the plan was defeated in the House of Lords by 232 votes to 178, Osborne indicated that he did not want to abandon a proposal despite warnings that the move could lead to tax avoidance.
He plans to introduce an additional incentive to enable employers to hand over £2,000 of shares exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions.
This incentive will cost the public purse £200m over the next five years.
Janet Williamson of the TUC said, “£200m spent on bribing hard working families to give up their hard won employment rights.”
Osborne also promised capital gains tax relief for owners of businesses although some tax experts were concerned about the impact that a change in the inheritance tax regime would have on small business owners. David Kilshaw, tax partner at KPMG, said that businesses were normally exempt from inheritance tax but the owners’ homes – often used as security for business loans – were subject to inheritance tax. In the past, owners with such borrowings were able to use their debt to avoid inheritance tax bill but that will no longer be the case.
“This is a nasty shock for business owners. They will now have to budget for unexpected inheritance tax bills and they may be faced with a horrible choice – do their heirs sell the family home or does the business pay the tax?” said Kilshaw.
The chancellor said he wanted to “increase five fold” the value of government procurement contracts available to small businesses.