By Jonathan Davies

Ahead of the Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement, which took place today (Wednesday), we spoke to businesses up and down the UK to find out what they were hoping to hear.

Thomas Villeneuve, CEO and Founder of flatsharing network Weroom:

“The introduction of a renting minister would open up the potential to offer greater support to property owners and landlords, specifically through rent subsidies and financial support schemes. This would help companies like Weroom grow its portfolio of landlords and tenants by making flatsharing an even more accessible, financially benefitting and transparent experience, which in turn would help expand our flatsharing network across the UK. It’s clear that as house prices continue to increase, more people are being forced to enter the property landscape far later in their adult lives than 10 years ago, which means the demand for flatsharing is inevitably going to expand. The government needs to acknowledge this and offer greater support young people in this situation, because flatsharing is fast becoming the only option for many young people living in Britain.”

Ian Jackson, managing director at IT specialist Imerja:

“I’d like to see the government provide real support to facilitate innovation and growth for small to medium businesses. I want policies that can be implemented immediately rather than taking years to come to fruition. There’s too much red tape and bureaucracy which often renders promising policies useless.

“SME’s alone employ in advance of 14m people accounting for almost 50% of all private sector employment. I’d like to see real and enforced policies aimed at helping SME’s do business within health and wider public sector and ways to fast-track innovation - we want policies which can help us grow and to remove the blockers that are currently in place."

Andrew Granger, managing partner of Andrew Granger & Co:

"Even with recent bad news about the deficit, it would seem unlikely that the Chancellor will increase taxes, but if he did increase income taxes or VAT, it would clearly have an effect on consumer confidence and the housing market with many families yet to feel the effects of an improving economy.

"If, as predicted, the higher rate threshold increases to 50,000, some people will feel able to afford larger mortgages so we would welcome that. We also support the idea of raising the inheritance tax threshold to take account of rapidly rising property values.

"In the commercial sector, we would welcome support for small to medium firms facing high business rates, and this is one way we could encourage more businesses to literally set up shop and bring back some much-needed life to the country’s many ailing high streets."

Kathy McArdle, CEO of Nottingham’s Creative Quarter:

"The government must reassess its failed plans to rejuvenate the High Street. Retail is a key driver of the economy, at both regional and national levels, and cities across the country are judged by their standing in the retail rankings. Not enough has been done as yet to kick start the High Street and this must be addressed in the near future. Can we offer more business rates incentives for new retail, create a genuinely digital high street, and deliver skills programmes for retailers?”

Simon Hill, CEO at Wazoku:

“Because it’s the last Autumn Statement before the General Election, we can expect a range of policies designed to attract voters. That’s fine, but I’d rather see measures that offer tangible, long-term support to start-ups rather than mere vote-grabbers. I’d like to see further expansion of corporate tax relief, particularly around the Patent Box legislation. As an idea management firm, we know the importance of innovation in business, and the Patent Box legislation entitles firms to a lower tax rate on profits from work related to patents that qualify for the scheme. This has been criticised as anti-European, but a broader innovation tax relief would encourage risk-taking in business and would give a boost to UK start-ups who want to be disruptive and innovative.”

Sarah Lafferty, Director and co-founder, Round Earth Consulting

"I would like to see the chancellor looking for ways to free up some of the capital that's tied up in large companies to improve the overall health of the economy. An obvious and sensible first step would be to turn the Prompt Payment Code, which is currently voluntary and totally ineffective, into law. In this way many small businesses will have the cash flow they need to pay their staff and suppliers without having to pay extra for expensive lines of credit. I think it a total outrage that this hasn't happened already.

"Oh look, a pig just flew past my window - maybe it will happen!"

Iain Moffatt, head of KPMG Enterprise:

“Access to funding for SMEs remains an area of red hot debate. What we’re hearing from those companies we speak to is an acknowledgement that there is already a wide range of support available to them, but a complaint that the marketplace is perhaps too fragmented and difficult to navigate at present.

“Unfortunately, this is dissuading businesses from accessing the funding they need. Greater clarity around or a simplification of the myriad of schemes and incentives available would therefore be incredibly welcome.”

Gary Turner, Xero managing director:

“Half of the UK’s GDP comes from small businesses — they are the lifeblood of the economy. Any initiative that supports them is hugely important, which is why we are calling for clarity around existing schemes. We also support the Federation of Small Businesses’ call to double small business rate relief beyond March 2015.

“It’s never been a better time to run your own business. With the UK now moving towards economic recovery at a faster rate than much of Europe, any support the Chancellor can give to small businesses now will doubtless pay dividends in the longer term.”

Clive Ormerod, managing director of training and consultancy specialist, OMS:

"As an organisation that works extensively with the construction sector, we would like to see measures to stimulate more investment in infrastructure and housing.

"From the point of view of our HR consultancy, we’d like to see steps to make childcare more affordable and to help low-paid workers, which could be achieved by raising the threshold for NIC."

Steve Gilroy, CEO of Vistage:

"George Osborne needs to showcase a positive strategy to support business and economy growth. Whilst over the past few years the focus has been on creating incentives for entrepreneurs in start-up mode, it is now time for the Chancellor to set in place initiatives or incentives that will encourage more relief and support for established mittelstand businesses seeking to grow or expand.

“A way to help this would be to provide more focus and take-up of apprentices for a wide variety of roles and levels.

“There will also be need to address issues around low cost housing in London and the South East. Specifically, planning processes need to be made more efficient so that there is supply to meet increasing demand."

Philippe Gelis, CEO and Co-Founder of Kantox:

“There has been talk of freezing long-haul Air Passenger Duty as a way to help UK businesses trade with new growth markets. Although this would help tackle the export issue from a physical distribution perspective, it still doesn’t tap into the underlying issues that prevent SMEs from trading on a global stage — paralysing fear of foreign exchange (FX) risk and frustration with banks’ opaque FX services - no doubt heightened after the recent high-profile scandal."

Marc Zao-Sanders, Co-Founder and MD of

“Further support for small businesses, and specifically a reduction in business rates, would be a huge win for the SME market. Accounting for almost half of private sector employment SMEs are an important force driving UK economic growth. However, they are vulnerable to the onerous and ever-changing financial obligations of running a business, one issue which we believe the Government should more proactively address.

"Better IT infrastructure, specifically broadband, would also have a significant impact on business efficiency. With an increasingly global economy and more reliance on good internet bandwidth to do business overseas, it's vital that Britain catches up with some of its international rivals technologically."

Jason Downes, managing director, Powwownow:

“Flexible working is a sector which was obviously addressed last year from a legislation point of view but has actually seen little change. For me, it is much more a cultural thing as the times we work in the UK are fully ingrained.

“Legislation will only get you so far. It’s the big statements and whether Britain wants to become a flexible working culture, unfortunately I don’t see much of an appetite for such. Are we serious about it or is it just words? We are a long way behind other leading business nations in this field and at the moment and I really think embracing flexible working would be a big benefit now the technology is catching up.”

Vince McLoughlin, Partner at business & tax advisory firm, Russell New:

“It would be a ridiculous decision to stifle growth by hindering businesses with additional costs. The small business rate system has previously placed too high a burden on UK businesses and by extending the rate relief again will provides small businesses with some respite along with the space in which to grow and continue the economic recovery. With greater relief, SMEs will have an incentive to make crucial investment decisions, some of which may have been delayed waiting for this announcement. Perhaps then will they be able to get mid-sized businesses to unleash their capital which will stimulate further growth and give the economy another push in the right direction.”

Peter Burgess, Managing Director at Retail Human Resources:

“It is vital that the Chancellor extends the package of relief measures he put in place in last year’s Autumn Statement. This package, worth more than £1bn, included capping the annual inflation-linked increase in business rates at 2% and offering a £1,000 discount for small businesses. Business rates for secondary retail sites are massively too high; the world has changed and secondary retail premises do not have the value they once did.

"The government needs to recognise that retail space in most high streets is not as valuable as it once was and will never recover, with the exception from within major shopping centres. Excessive charges for these rates is bad for jobs, especially in areas of high unemployment, and bad for the social fabric of our towns and cities. We need a significant reduction in business rates for all town centres if they are to revive. This could quite easily be paid for by raising council tax on wealthy homes and suburbs which, in turn, removes the needs for the much discussed mansion tax.”

Steve Ruffley, Chief Market Strategist at InterTrader:

“We need less red tape and more action against the mega cooperation’s. With 1% of the population holding 50% of UK wealth how much further can you keep squeezing the middle? Property, land, and old money needs to take a hit and redress the balance. We are not going to be able to bridge the gap between those who can pay tax and those who should pay more tax unless there is a radical shake up. It has to come from the private sector. Why should companies have more cash reserves than countries?”

Richard Selby, co-founder of Pro Steel Engineering, said:

“I hope the Chancellor announces the provision of rapid access to working capital for SMEs to help them compete with larger firms when opportunities arise. A recent survey by recruitment company Hays announced that employers across Wales for example are confident that over the next 12 months, their business activity will increase and will result in greater hiring; aiding the growth of the construction industry."

Charlie Mullins, MD of Pimlico Plumbers:

“Two major issues The Chancellor needs to tackle in the Autumn Statement are the skills gap and youth unemployment. Apprenticeships are the solution to both problems. That's why I'm urging for a national fully funded apprenticeship scheme where Job Seekers Allowance is turned into a Job Achiever's Allowance as a way of offsetting the company's training costs, reducing unemployment in young people and building a skilled workforce for the future.

“Give all firms an NIC Holiday for apprentices for 3 years. The reason companies don't take on apprentices at the moment is because it costs too much money. It costs £45,000 to take on an apprentice for three years. But businesses want to help youngsters. They want skilled workers coming through and they want to get youngsters off the streets."

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