Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his autumn statement this afternoon with promises to reform the planning system and scrap plans to end a tax cut allowing firms to claim back the cost of equipment.
The government has said it wants to overhaul the country’s planning system in order to boost economic growth and productivity.
It said it would introduce a “new premium planning services across England with guaranteed accelerated decision dates for major applications and fee refunds wherever these are not met”.
Meanwhile, the chancellor described the “full expensing” measure which lets businesses claim 25% of the cost of investments in IT, equipment and machinery as the “largest business tax cut in modern British history”.
This afternoon’s autumn statement was delivered against predictions the UK economy will grow much more slowly than previously thought over the next two years.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said the economy would grow by 0.7% in 2024 and 1.4% in 2025. That is down from a forecast in March of 1.8% and 2.5%.
According to the watchdog, the UK will grow by 0.6% this year - considerably better than what it expected last autumn, when it predicted the economy would fall into recession and shrink by 1.4%.
Reaction has been mixed with Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis, saying the “National Insurance cuts, a duty freeze on alcohol, the pensions triple lock and benefits increases will be the headline-grabbing crowd pleasers but was this a statement for business?”
He added: “Making expensing permanent will be welcomed by business and will certainly benefit the economy as a whole – though services firms will benefit less than more capital-intensive businesses.
But he warned: “The chancellor made a big play of his ‘planning reform’ but, cynically, his proposal is little more than applicants paying more to get the service they should have got anyway; to think that this is going to turn the dial on housing delivery and development is fanciful.”
Here is what others in the industry thought of it.
“Speeding up the planning process for major infrastructure projects is vital to achieving net zero, improving climate resilience and boosting economic growth.
“Government’s endorsement of a strategic spatial approach to the energy transmission network is a big step forward, and we welcome the ambition to get decisions on major projects made within two and half years, down from the current average of over four years.
“To achieve this ambition, government must urgently finalise a new set of clear, updated national policy statements for energy and transport and progress the other Commission recommendations it has adopted. While there are indications of progress on promoting greater access to environmental data, government needs to go further to provide firm commitments and timeframes for data sharing and to support the development of mitigations that benefit multiple projects in key sectors and locations.
“Industry and investors will be watching to ensure government moves from commitments to action. There’s no time to lose.”
Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission
“This was an autumn statement by a government that appears to have little insight into the challenges faced by those working in property and construction, having shuffled 16 housing ministers in 13 years and just cancelled HS2. Of the measures announced, full expensing is to be welcomed but is only helpful if you have projects requiring you to buy plant and machinery. It doesn’t help firms struggling to make a profit or investing in people. It’s all jam tomorrow and while planning reforms sound appealing they take time to implement and may not be supported by any future government. Where was the VAT relief on the greening of housing stock when over 31m people live in buildings that meet sub-standard EPC ratings and £50m to support apprenticeships is meagre. We were promised 110 measures to help industry but in fact there was little there to inspire confidence and stimulate investment.”
Graham Harle, chief executive, Gleeds
“According to the latest data, construction starts in London are at the lowest point since 2009. Consequently, the industry is in dire need of support. Considering the Chancellor’s focus on supply-side measures, this was an ideal chance to provide this backing as well as be radical and listen to those 66% of Londoners aged 25-45 who would have welcomed development on the green belt if it meant more homes. As a representative of the SME sector, it is therefore disheartening to see our suggestions for supply-side interventions, proposals that could potentially unlock an additional 1.6 million new homes at no extra cost to the Treasury, overlooked once more.”
Marc Vlessing, chief executive, Pocket Living
“The government heard the furious backlash to its green policy rollback last month; and this was a chance to realise scale of their error by shoring up protections for struggling households and small businesses and get energy bills and carbon emissions under control. It’s not that the Government hasn’t been presented with the ideas to address the problem. Industry has been offering oven-ready policy proposals such as modernising Stamp Duty with a ‘rebate to renovate’ incentive for households that would accelerate home insulation, cut our reliance on polluting fossil fuels, and motivate people to switch to low carbon heating and install solar panels – all while also ‘backing British businesses’ by creating a large-scale, long-term retrofit market to support industry and deliver skilled jobs throughout the country. We hope it will be announced in the Spring Budget.”
Simon McWhirter, deputy chief executive at the UK Green Building Council
“With current strains on the public purse and the potential to re-stoke inflation, the likelihood of significant investment in infrastructure was always limited. Even so, the lack of any new meaningful investment to boost the UK’s pipeline is disappointing. Infrastructure is, after all, the foundation for wider economic growth.”
Colin Wood, chief executive, Aecom Europe and India
“The chancellor has taken some significant pro-business steps today, but the downgraded growth forecasts prepared by the OBR show the scale of the challenge he faces. Reducing employees’ NI is a great way to make work pay – and we also welcome the extension of the Restart programme and reform of fit notes as these steps will help ensure that we make the most of the UK’s labour force. Making full expensing permanent is also great news for business and will drive investment – but only in the sectors that can really benefit from it. Services firms – the bulk of the economy – benefit far less.”
Neil Carberry. chief executive, Recruitment and Employment Confederation
“In light of the OBR’s central forecast being downgraded, the Autumn Statement was really quite underwhelming for the construction industry, which has been crying out for some clarity, commitment and consistency in policies.
“Crucially, the already delayed National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline is still nowhere to be seen, with the government saying it will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy next year.
“Investment in infrastructure, and removing barriers to private sector investment, is hugely important to driving economic growth. With the Autumn Statement, construction firms operating in an uncertain market have simply had that uncertainty prolonged yet again.”
Dr David Crosthwaite, chief economist at Building Cost Information Service
“We know that two of the biggest blockers to delivering the homes, workplaces and vibrant communities needed across the country are an inefficient planning system and delivery of the right infrastructure.
“However, the planning system can only work more effectively, and be held to account for delivering swifter outcomes, if it is resourced properly. The planning system has been under-funded for at least a decade and its expertise in handling major projects hollowed out.”
Melanie Leech, British Property Federation chief executive
“With one eye on the General Election next year, this was always likely to be an Autumn Statement primarily aimed at helping working households and businesses. For UK construction product manufacturers, it is the ‘Full Expensing’ announcement that will resonate most with them. While these announcements are helpful, the Chancellor could have gone further with industrial policy by providing a clearer strategy on key growth areas. Equally, more could be done on housing supply and home buying, as well as energy efficiency in housing such as introducing a green stamp duty. While the announcements on improving infrastructure delivery are welcome, how effectively they will translate into reality on the ground is yet to be seen.”
Noble Francis, CPA economics director
“Today’s Autumn Statement included some welcome developments on planning and opportunities for regional rebalancing, but a continued lack of clarity around future infrastructure projects continues to create uncertainty across the supply chain as we wait for the urgently required publication of an updated National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline.”
Richard Robinson, chief executive UK & Ireland, AtkinsRéalis
First Published on Building on 22 November 2023