Autumn Statement is just what business needs – but heed pension warning

The Government’s first – and last – Autumn Statement will be remembered for its sensibleness.
When faced with a crisis, Ronald Reagan had a catchphrase: “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”
May’s Chancellor is cut from the same cloth. Philip Hammond is not about fancy initiatives, meddling too much or tweaking things for the sake of a good headline. He does something only when it is required.

At a time when Brexit is going to change everything, we needed a sensible Autumn Statement from a government that lets businesses just get on with it.

Pension warning

There was confirmation that the ‘triple lock’ policy on the state pension would remain – for now.

Philip Hammond gave a very clear flag in the detail behind the budget that the higher rate tax relief on pensions is under serious threat.

The budget notes describe this as unsustainable and we expect this to be removed next year. It’s going to have an impact on higher rate taxpayers so we would recommend those hit by it to increase their pension contributions as soon as possible to get tax relief.

A consultation will be launched on how best to prevent people with retirement savings from being cold-called by pension scams – which is very welcome news.

New savings bond

The Autumn Statement announced a new 2.2% fixed savings bond which will go on offer next year – but don’t crack open the champagne just yet.

The NS&I bond catches the eye but in reality it’s fairly inconsequential. Savers can only invest a maximum of £3000 in total over the three year period – making just £66 a year in interest.

The full details of the bond will be unveiled in the Spring Budget.

Savers looking to invest more, should check out the 123 bank account from Santander which pays a monthly interest of 1.5% but allows you to invest up to £20,000.

Personal Income and employee perks

From April 2017, the Personal Savings Allowance for income tax will raise from £11,000 to £11,500 and the National Living Wage will increase from £7.20 an hour to £7.50.

In 2010, the Personal Savings Allowance was £6,750 so this has gone up massively in a very short space of time, particularly when you consider our low inflation rate in that time.

The planned rise in the higher-rate income tax threshold from £43,000 to £45,000 will be pushed through and will be followed by an additional increase to £50,000 over the same timeframe.

On the other hand, perks for employees are set to cost more. Known as ‘salary sacrifice’ schemes, employees have traditionally been able to give up part of their salary for a non-cash benefit allowing them to buy gym memberships, mobile phone deals and take car allowances.

From April, the scheme will only be beneficial for people using it for childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work schemes and pension contributions – with the exception of ultra-low emission ‘green’ cars.

Clampdown on letting agents

Letting agent fees on people who rent private accommodation will be banned as soon as possible with landlords expected to pick up the costs of preparing tenancy agreements, checking references and credit checks instead.

For too long, abusive agents have been charging their tenants far too much for straightforward checks and paperwork. We will have to wait and see whether this leads to an increase in rental costs.

Regional boost

There was some good news for the North West, which shows that Theresa May seems to be standing by her first pledge as PM for a ‘one-nation Britain’.

The government has committed to raising productivity across the UK – and not just in the south. With the Northern Powerhouse Strategy, there will be £1.8bn funding for regions through the Local Growth Fund.

It will be interesting to see what this means for the North West as the new mayors are elected – I expect they will have the power to spend regionally which will allow them to invest in economically productive infrastructure.

The new £400m Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund and the commitment to rolling out fibre to more homes and businesses will also be good for our region.

No more Autumn Statements

Hammond announced a shake-up for the fiscal calendar with a scrapping of the traditional Autumn Statement.

A new Spring Statement is to be introduced in its place which will react to OBR forecasts.
This makes sense as the Autumn Statement has become a second budget in recent times. A return to one fiscal event should make life simpler for taxpayers.

It’s not the first time the UK has seen a Budget held in the Autumn. In 1993, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke merged tax and spending announcements into an Autumn Budget.

Business news

The Government recommitted to cutting the rate of Corporation Tax to 17% by 2020 and reducing the burden of business rates by £6.7bn over the next five years.

There was 100% Rural Rate Relief announced for businesses in rural areas, a cancellation of the planned fuel duty rise for the seventh year in a row (saving an average of £130 a year for car drivers and £350 for van drivers) and over £1bn pledged for improving the country’s digital infrastructure.

Under a simplification of national insurance contributions, businesses face an extra cost of £7.18 per employee from April 2017. Severance payments over £30,000 will also be subject to National Insurance. Previously, only income tax was charged.

Markets steady after Trump shock

Fears that the markets would tumble in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential race have so far not materialised.

Like Brexit earlier in the year, forecasts of economic doom and gloom have proven false.

The BBC’s economics editor, Kamal Ahmed went as far as describing the initial hours after Trump sealed victory as “Brexit Minus”. Investors are in “wait and see mode”.

Developments in the last 24 hours have included:

  • FTSE 100 down 2% before rebounding to finish the day positive
  • Minor falls on other European markets as money flowed to safe haven stocks, gold and currencies including the yen
  • A fall in the value of the US $
  • Sharp rises in pharma and healthcare and some industrial stocks.

Alan Mellor said: “You always expect an initial knee jerk reaction, but the response to the Trump victory was much calmer than was the case following the Brexit vote in June.

“Perhaps Brexit changed the way we view so called ‘seismic’ events of this nature. Markets dislike uncertainty and therefore we can probably expect a certain amount of volatility over the coming days and weeks. But the market will quickly revert to the fundamentals – it is only interested in financial analysis and hard economic facts as opposed to whether we like or dislike Donald Trump as an individual.

“My job as a Chartered Financial Planner is about the long-term planning, helping my clients to invest in the right opportunities, the ones with the best track record and the best future potential.”

Alan added: “Although Trump does not get the keys to the White House until after his inauguration in January, we will hear about his plans for his First 100 Days much sooner than that.

“One policy he is likely to pursue is the repatriation of all profits that have been placed by some of the biggest US corporations elsewhere in the world. This cash pile is likely to spark a period of mergers and acquisitions which will be good for the overall health of the economy.”

Regarding the fall in the value of the $, Alan said: “The US $ is over-valued and has been for some time, so the fall we have seen so far is not such a bad thing.

“We will continue to monitor the impact of the Trump victory very closely and ensure that clients are kept updated with any significant developments affecting their investments. Ultimately, our focus is on the long term, not a single, albeit momentous, event in US history.”