The Chancellor announced the GDP growth forecast was 1.1% in 2020, but acknowledged that this did not factor in the economic impact of Coronavirus. Among the SME support measures was a dedicated helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities, a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support up to a further £1bn lending to SMEs to support businesses accessing bank lending and overdrafts, and a £2.2bn grant scheme for small businesses. Businesses that do not pay business rates will also receive a £3,000 stimulus payment.
Most significantly, the Chancellor announced the government would refund the cost of statutory sick pack for businesses with fewer than 250 employees for up to 14 days in a move to encourage people to self-isolate.
BESA Director of Legal & Commercial Debbie Petford said: “These measures go a long way towards easing the financial pressures on members in this extraordinary situation and ensures they are not penalised for doing the right thing by their employees.'
Ms Petford noted that the infrastructure-spending splurge and other announcements by the Chancellor would be welcome by BESA members, such as a new £1bn Building Safety Fund to deal with all unsafe combustible cladding. However, she argued that the government had missed another opportunity to help construction SMEs with no new initiatives to boost fair payment announced.
“A commitment to fund a pilot retention deposit scheme would have been a sound investment for the long-term sustainability of our industry,” she said.
The Chancellor announced further measures to deal with air pollution across English towns and cities including £500m to support the rollout of new rapid charging hubs for electric vehicles, and providing over £300 million to help local authorities reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions and improve air quality.
Nathan Wood, Chair of BESA’s Health and Wellbeing in Buildings Group said these were positive developments, but more was needed on indoor air quality: “Anything that helps make the outside air we breathe cleaner is welcome, but most of us spend 90% of our time indoors. The government could improve indoor air quality by boosting funding to upgrade public buildings such as schools and hospitals to ensure they are safe havens from pollution.”