BDO Budget Breakfast highlights manifesto awareness gap amongst the region’s business leaders

Over 160 of the region’s top business leaders attended the annual BDO Budget Breakfast at St Mary’s Stadium last week. The event revealed a lack of clarity in party manifestos as we approach the General Election.

During the event, delegates took part in this year’s interactive game – a hallmark of the BDO Budget Breakfast, which saw a record turnout despite the Budget itself carrying few surprises for business.

Asked to match different manifesto policies with the correct political party, the range of responses indicated a real lack of clarity among the audience, highlighting that party rhetoric and poor communication was causing confusion for the electorate. This can’t bode well for the UK’s political leaders as we countdown to the General Election in May.

However, the main purpose of the event was for business leaders to hear BDO’s early thoughts on how the Budget will affect commerce in the region.

Stuart Lisle, Tax Partner at BDO LLP in Southampton commented:

“Unsurprising, this was a Budget designed to appeal to as many voters as possible, from low earners, high earners and small businesses.  With Britain growing ahead of its major international competitors and an election coming up so soon, it’s clear that the Chancellor felt confident enough to loosen the purse strings, if only for a fleeting moment.”

At the breakfast event, the main announcements from the speech were explained. The increases in personal allowance and in the higher rate tax band were welcomed, as was the increased flexibility for pensioners with annuities. At the other end of the age scale, the newly announced Help to Buy ISA for first time buyers was seen to be well received.

However, BDO believes that the Chancellor missed a clear opportunity to show his support for the fastest growing part of the business community – the mid-market.

Stuart adds: “As is becoming a worrying trend, there was very little in the Budget to help mid-sized businesses.

“Despite a building rhetoric behind the scenes, any suggestion of how HMRC may start to adopt a more considerate and focused approach to these businesses was missing. There was also very little in the way of incentives for Britain’s mid-sized exporters.

“We would like to see much more for this engine room of the UK economy from whoever wins in May.

“The launch of the Treasury’s review into business rates is welcome and long overdue. However, there is likely to be a long period of review and consultation, with any benefits unlikely to filter through until well into the next Parliament. It will, therefore, be a watching brief for some time yet which will offer little respite for mid-market retailers who continue to feel the pain of rates set in 2008.”