This week's article for the Herald and Post...
Last week was another busy one. I spent much of the week getting up to speed with my schools’ brief and meeting people from across the world of education - some but not all of them familiar faces from my previous time at the Department for Education. And in the middle of the week, the Autumn Statement on Wednesday - more on that later.
On Friday morning I was in Alton at the new Treloar’s accessible flats at the Rivermead Gardens development, on the site of the old brewery. These exceptional flats have been purpose built to help individuals with complex disabilities live independently.
The location of the flats, so close to the town centre, means that the new residents can access shops, cafes and all the other local amenities that many people can take for granted. It was great to meet two of the new residents on Friday, one of whom I’d known through correspondence but never met in person.
Treloar’s have long been leaders in the use of assistive and adaptive technology innovation. They've done fantastic work getting these flats off the ground, with important work too from EHDC and Cala Homes.
I really hope the flats can be a blueprint for future developments as we know that this kind of adapted accommodation is in high demand.
That afternoon, before my surgery, I headed to Lindford to meet the parish council and local businesses to talk about the road closures connected with Scottish & Southern Electricity laying cabling between Alton and Bordon. This is to make the power supply in Bordon more resilient, and accommodate the growth in Whitehill & Bordon.
I accept that road closures are sometimes necessary but equally this should not be for longer than necessary and it is vital to let people plan for it. I do think there are lessons about interacting with the community when decisions materially affect their lives or businesses. It was a productive meeting resulting in a number of to-do actions.
Nationally, the big story of last week was the Autumn Statement.
There were lots of takeaways from the statement – cuts to national insurance rates, simplifying the tax regime and cutting taxes for the self-employed (farmers, plumbers, delivery drivers etc all stand to benefit here), and reducing the tax burden for businesses by making full expensing permanent. This last measure was first announced in the Spring Budget and means that businesses, such as farm and local manufacturers, can invest in machinery and plant equipment but at a reduced tax rate.
I was also pleased to see the 75% business rate discount for small business in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors extended to March 2025. This could save the average pub £12,800 next year, a not insignificant sum, and vital for rural pubs - some of which are still feeling the effects of the pandemic.
Another huge help for SMEs is on late payments. Companies with a turnover of over £5 million and who have a history of paying their suppliers late will now be barred from bidding for public contracts. I know the crippling effect late payments can have on small businesses so I congratulate the Federation of Small Businesses for their campaigning to get this measure introduced.
So, all in all, lots to digest, lots of help for small businesses and the self-employed, and a strengthening economy.