On Wednesday 22 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt gave an Autumn Statement, updating the country on the state of the economy, and announcing his latest decisions on tax and Government spending.

So what was in it for SME builders?

A little bit here and there. The Chancellor announced a number of new measures, aiming to speed up planning, cut taxes for small businesses, increase support for business investment, and to provide financial backing to boost apprenticeships.

There were also positives with the Made Smarter programme expanded to support SMEs to adopt digital technologies, and the Help to Grow scheme for business owners, which provides access to management training through leading business schools has been extended.

Steps were taken to reform elements of the planning system, with proposals to enable local authorities to receive full cost recovery from major business and infrastructure projects, if they are able to meet shorter delivery deadlines. This will mean fees being refunded for failure to meet these deadlines.

Jeremy Hunt also confirmed changes to permitted development rights to help make certain home improvements quicker, and additional support for housing associations to deliver energy efficiency improvements, which may result in more work for members that work with housing associations.

It was also announced that there will be increased funding to help secure additional planning officers. While these changes won't help in the short term, they may help alleviate capacity issues in the future.

What was missing? 

But there's still plenty more which needs to be done. Ahead of the Autumn Statement FMB Chief Executive Brian Berry wrote to the Chancellor, setting out his key priorities for our industry.

We have called for a reduction to VAT and Stamp Duty. This would provide confidence in the industry for small firms looking to invest in the retrofit market and upskill their workforce, however there was very little from Jeremy Hunt on this key issue.

While positive steps were taken to boost apprenticeships, it is clear that additional funding is needed. Increased resourcing would enable skills academies for provide the training necessary to boost the size of the construction workforce. It would also enable the industry to move into new areas like energy efficiency, which could require hundreds of thousands of new or upskilled workers. 

Finally, we know that there is strong support for introducing a licensing system to regulate the building industry, which would save consumers money and boost income to the Treasury. It was once again disappointing to see that there remains a lack of progress in delivering this, at the top of Government.

What next?

While it is positive to see some steps taken to support our industry, more needs to be done to help support the industry. The UK is currently experiencing a housing crisis, and yet the support announced for house builders, and we continue to lack a strong plan to significantly boost growth. Ahead of the Budget, which will be coming up in the Spring, and possibly an election in Spring we will continue to work with Government officials to argue the case for substantial reform, and to support the delivery of real change.