European Union: My Thoughts On The Budget

Last Updated: 28 November 2017
Article by David Noon

Last week's Autumn Statement was billed by many as the "Brexit budget". With the next one due to take place just four months before the UK officially leaves the EU, this was perhaps the last opportunity for the Chancellor to make funding decisions that will take effect on the UK economy before Brexit.

This Budget was also set against a backdrop of 17 months' economic data that shows how Brexit is impacting - so whilst the Chancellor stated early in his speech that it was "about much more than Brexit", clearly the measures announced will be viewed in a Brexit context.

The latest OBR forecast predicts average UK GDP growth of 1.4% until 2021, which is noticeably behind the Euro area and Brexit has undoubtedly contributed to the slowdown. However, the latest downward revisions by the OBR were predominately based on the UK's consistently weak productivity, which has long lagged behind that of other major economies. In our Power Up report, we talked about Brexit as a catalyst for government, business and educators to come together to address this long term productivity challenge, by investing further in skills and technology. The announcement of the National Retraining Scheme (NRP), a partnership between government the TUC and CBI that will look at developing the skills that the UK needs most, is a good example of such collaboration. Initially the NRP will focus on digital skills and those in the construction sector. With construction one of the sectors potentially facing a skills challenge post Brexit, it is unsurprising that this is a focus area.

There were also a range of measures aimed to boost the tech sector, including investment in everything from AI, to 5G to driverless cars. Support for tech start-ups was also included, with the Chancellor stating his ambition for a tech business to be founded in the UK every half hour. Another recent report in our Power Up series found that whilst the UK is great at founding tech start-ups, they often choose to scale elsewhere, and so looking at what we can do to nurture those businesses as they scale is important. But I am encouraged by these measures, which seek to maintain and grow UK competiveness outside of the EU. Leading the way in transformational technologies is key to the UK's future success and these announcements are a positive step in the right direction.

Given the pace of technological change today, there is a real danger that many workers could be left behind if they are not equipped with the necessary skills to complement these new technologies. A localised response is required in order to address the particular skills and infrastructure challenges that each region is faced with. The Chancellor's commitment to initiatives such as Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse and a local industrial strategy for Manchester are welcome steps, but it is important that areas outside of these hubs and cities without metro mayors are not forgotten.

On the topic of Brexit itself, I was encouraged that the Chancellor reiterated that agreeing the terms of the implementation period is a top priority. Some of our recent research suggests that a number of businesses are still yet to take any action in terms of planning for Brexit given the high level of uncertainty, so more clarity around the period immediately following the UK's departure is crucial. The Chancellor also committed an extra £3 billion to ensuring the UK is ready for every possible Brexit outcome. Given the complexity of trade negotiations, we are unlikely to know what the final outcome looks like for some time to come and therefore this approach of preparing for every scenario is consistent with our advice to clients.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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