The Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered his Budget today – his last before the May general election. Although it gave him a chance to break the current political stalemate and gain ground over the other political parties, his hands were already tied by his pledge that there would be “No giveaways, no gimmicks”.

This pledge came despite calls from business support groups for the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) to become permanent so that businesses could invest with confidence. John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said: “Businesses have grown tired of constant chopping and changing in the UK tax system. They need long-term certainty, rather than short-term incentives, to help support investment decisions.

“A long-term investment allowance would give businesses of all sizes much-needed certainty. Our proposals would also allow for premises improvements to be included in the scheme, which are crucial to firms looking to expand their workforce or enhance their efficiency.”

This call was echoed by John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who also argued that the AIA should be increased: “A permanent AIA set at £250,000 will get more of our mid-sized companies investing in their factories and production lines, with the UK currently comparing poorly with many key European neighbours, where smaller firms account for half of total business investment.”

Darren Fell, Managing Director of Crunch Accounting, was keen to see measures that would boost the UK’s self-employed business owners: “There's no doubt the self-employed have made the biggest contribution to the UK's economic recovery, but have been largely ignored by policy-makers. Now is the time to change that.

"We recently conducted some research that showed around 2.5 million self-employed business owners will favour parties that have strong policies for freelancers and contractors at the General Election, so legislation that will specifically benefit one-person businesses is very much an election issue. It remains to be seen if the Coalition will realise this before May."

So did the Chancellor listen, and deliver a Budget for business? The main headlines were:

  • Corporation tax: Confirmation that the corporation main rate and small business rate will be aligned at 20% from April 2015.
  • Film tax: This will be increased to 25% (subject to State Aid approval) and a new Orchestra tax relief of 25% will be introduced from April 2016.
  • Diverted Profits Tax: This new tax is designed to prevent businesses diverting profits overseas to avoid tax and will take effect from April 2015.
  • Business rates: A major review of the business rates system is to be completed by April 2016.
  • Business rates: Pilot schemes are to be established which allow participating authorities to keep 100% of any additional business rate revenue above forecast revenue from April 2015.
  • Enterprise: Eight new enterprise zones have been announced.
  • R&D tax relief: As previously announced, the above-the-line R&D tax relief will increase to 11% for the main scheme and 230% for the SME scheme.
  • Growth Loans: The British Business Bank will launch a pilot ‘Help to grow’ loan programme for businesses seeking between £500,000 and £2 million.
  • National Insurance: Employer NICs will be abolished for employees under 21 from April 2015 and abolished for apprentices under the age of 25 from April 2016.
  • Simplification of tax: Class 2 contributions will be abolished for the self-employed during the next parliament.
  • Simplification of tax: The annual self-assessment return will be abolished completely in 2016 and replaced with a digital tax account. The digital tax account will also calculate and collect tax and National Insurance Contributions.
  • Employee benefits: There will be a new exemption for benefits and expenses costing less than £50 from April 2015. The threshold below which employees do not pay income tax on certain benefits is to be replaced with other allowances in April 2016.
  • Personal Tax Free Allowance: This will be increased to £10,800 in 2016/17 and £11,000 in 2017/18. The basic rate limit for 2016 will be £31,900 and the higher rate limit will be £42,700.
  • Enterprise Investment Scheme: There will be a new £15 million cap on investments that companies can receive under EIS (£20 million for ‘knowledge intensive businesses’).
  • Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme: The requirement that 70% of investment money must have been spent before EIS or Venture Capital can be raised is to be abolished.
  • Social Investment Schemes: Subject to State Aid approval, investments in Social Venture Capital Trusts will receive a 30% income tax relief.
  • Continental Shelf Investment Allowance: There will be a new basin-wide allowance to support investment in the UK continental shelf, replacing existing offshore field allowances.
  • VAT: The registration threshold increases to £82,000 from 1 April 2015 and the de-registration threshold will increase to £80,000.
  • Personal savings: The first £1,000 of interest on savings to be tax-free.
  • Personal savings: There will be greater flexibility for ISA investors. Investors will be able to withdraw and replace money invested in ISAs without it counting towards their annual ISA savings limits.
  • Personal savings: A new Help to Buy ISA will be launched. First time buyers will be able to save up to £200 per month. The Government will add 25% and an additional bonus of up to £3,000 when the house is purchased. Where more than one person is buying the house, each can benefit from a Help to Buy ISA.
  • Personal savings: The list of qualifying investments will be extended to include bonds issued by co-operatives and community benefit societies from summer 2015.
  • Personal savings: The Premium Bond Investment limit is to increase to £50,000.
  • Fuel duty: The planned September Fuel duty increase has been scrapped.
  • Duties: Tobacco and gaming duties have been frozen.
  • Alcohol duty: Duty on general beer, spirits and lower strength cider reduced by 2%. The duty rate on wine below 22% abv and high strength sparkling cider will be frozen.
  • Air passenger duty: This will increase by RPI from April 2016. Children under 12 are exempt from 1 May 2015 and children under 16 from 1 March 2016.
  • Company car tax: There will be a 3% increase in company car tax from 2019-20. Tax on low-emission cars will increase more slowly than previously planned.
  • Petroleum revenue tax: Cut from 50% to 35% for chargeable periods ending after 31 December 2015.
  • New Horserace Betting Right: Replacing the Horserace Betting Levy and applying to all bookmakers, wherever located, who take bets from British customers on British racing.
  • Fuel benefit and van benefit charge: Both to increase by RPI from April 2016.
  • Vehicle excise duty: Increasing by RPI from 2015.
  • Enhanced capital allowance for zero-emission goods vehicles: This will be extended until March 2018.
  • Export: Doubling of the support available to exporters trading with China.
  • Pension reform: Reduction of the lifetime allowance for pension savings from £1.25 million to £1 million from 2016.
  • Gift Aid Small Donations scheme: Increased from £5,000 to £8,000 from April 2016.
  • Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings (properties owned by corporate entities): As announced in the 2014 budget, ATED will be extended from April 2015 to properties worth over £1 million.
  • Tax-free childcare: The limit that can be claimed by parents of disabled children will be doubled to £4,000 per child per year.
  • Bank levy: This will increase from 0.156% to 0.21% from 1 April 2015.
  • Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy: £600 million to be spent freeing up spectrum frequencies for 4G mobile communications and further measures to deliver broadband to rural areas.

Responding to the Chancellor’s budget, Darren Fell of Crunch Accounting said: "It's been a long time coming but it seems George Osborne is finally recognising the importance of the self-employed workforce to the UK economy. The removal of Class 2 National Insurance contributions is a step in the right direction, and the potential for the removal of the annual Self Assessment tax return is a real coup.”

James Pattison, CEO of Startup Direct, commented: "The simplification of the tax system will be music to the ears of stressed business owners and sole traders, many of whom may now feel more able to handle their own tax affairs and save accountant’s fees.

“However, it’s a shame the Government didn’t go further to boost enterprise and support SMEs, which have been the driving force behind the economic recovery so far. A pledge to fund the creation of co-working spaces for start ups would have been a cost effective way of delivering real, practical help to people wanting to start or grow a business, in an inspiring, efficient and super-collaborative environment. The Chancellor has missed a trick which would have delivered maximum help to entrepreneurs with minimal Government investment.”

Resources: 
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