Buoyed by the UK’s better-than-expected economic growth, Rishi made a big show of dishing out the dosh when he delivered his Autumn Budget, promising to increase spending by a cool £150bn over the course of this parliament.
But as many in the industry were quick to point out, there were too many promises of jam tomorrow – and most of the chancellor’s promises had already been made.
This issue of Property Week is a climate special ahead of COP26, which kicks off this Sunday, and hopes were high ahead of the summit that the government would follow last week’s launches of the Heating and Buildings and Net Zero strategies with a green, or at least greenish, Budget.
But bizarrely, beyond the announcement of business rates relief for companies that invest in green technologies such as solar panels, there was virtually nothing. Fresh from calling for more joined-up action on climate in our comment pages this week, UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen summed up the view of many.
“With the COP26 conference just days away, the chancellor’s announcements felt like they were from a different planet and a different time,” she said. “There were no big announcements to fill the clear gap that has emerged around decarbonising existing buildings.”
Following the Budget, the sense of anger, exasperation and disappointment was palpable across the industry, particularly in relation to business rates, which most agree require fundamental reform, not temporary relief. Shopkeepers’ Campaign chair Vivienne King went so far as to say the chancellor had “betrayed the high street” by not committing to annual revaluations and only cutting rates for a year rather than undertaking a fundamental review of the system. Expect more retail bankruptcies and job losses, she warned, accusing the government of being “anti-high street” and “simply abdicating responsibility for it.”
BPF chief executive Melanie Leech echoed King’s call for annual revaluations, adding that while the business rates measures would provide “welcome temporary relief”, they underlined the need for fundamental reform. “Businesses need to see long-term reductions in the rates they pay rather than short-term fixes,” she said.
For Colliers’ John Webber it was a “golden opportunity missed”. The 50% rate cut for retail, hospitality and leisure is just another “sticking plaster”, he said, noting that as relief is limited to £110,000, it will do nothing to help bigger retailers and that “retailers will still be facing the cliffhanger of an unfair rating system in 2023 when new rate bills fall”. In short, the measures offer little more than a stay of execution for some retailers.
The tipped introduction of a 4% Residential Property Developer Tax for developers with profits of more than £25m was also given short shrift. Intended to fund the removal of unsafe cladding, the RPDT would just add cost at the worst possible time and hamper the delivery of homes, warned many experts. There is also a real risk these additional costs will simply be passed on to leaseholders and buyers.
Underwhelming is the word that springs to mind. As for talk of levelling up, there was plenty of that, but not so much of levelling the playing field, not in retail anyway, with no online sales tax introduced, just the promise of a consultation – and how many times have we heard that?
Ah well, at least people will be able to drown their sorrows more easily thanks to the shake-up of alcohol duty on sparkling wine and draught beer…
Liz Hamson, editor of Property Week