THE FIRST Autumn Statement from Chancellor Philip Hammond featured a number of welcome headlines for Somerset but came with revised growth, borrowing and debt figures.

There were a number of pledges to invest in transport, housing and infrastructure, although no specific mention of Somerset schemes such as A303 and A358 dualling.

For the man on the street, there will be a fuel duty freeze, for the seventh year running, helping to keep the costs at the pump down, the tax free personal allowance has gone up to £12,500, national living wage will increase to £7.50 per hour from next April and an extra £1 billion pledged for digital infrastructure in the country, including development of 5G mobile technology.

Elsewhere, Wellington Monument is set to benefit from a cash boost of up to £1million from the Libor Fund, the money raised from fines paid by banker’s who were found to have manipulated the Libor rate.

Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has revised growth to 2.1 per cent for this year. That will then fall to 1.4 per cent next year, 1.7 per cent in 2018, 2.1 per cent in 2019 and 2020, and 2 per cent in 2021.


Simon Denton, partner at Taunton-based chartered accountants Milsted Langdon

Somerset County Gazette:

"This Autumn Statement has lacked some of the large tax announcements that we have seen in recent years.

"It is welcome to see the Chancellor’s plans to increase both the personal allowance and higher rate tax thresholds albeit it over time and this will no doubt go some way to alleviating the financial pressure on the JAMs (Just about managing).

"The cut in corporation tax was much rumoured and is not as big as some were predicting.

"A county like Somerset will no doubt also benefit from the increase in rural rate relief from 50 per cent to 100 per cent.

"However, for many other small companies especially retail ones, business rates continues to be a much bigger issue that direct taxation.

"The Chancellor has confirmed that they will follow through on the consultations aimed at further tackling tax avoidance as this continues to be a political hot potato.

"However, the elephant in the room is undoubtedly the lack of any announcement about Making Tax Digital, the government's plan to make all but the smallest business maintain their records digitally and submit them quarterly to HMRC which was due to start in April 2018.

"We must now wait to see what is announced in the coming weeks."


Samantha Jackson, managing director at Cooper Associates

Somerset County Gazette:

"The Chancellor’s pledge to “more than double the amount of capital spending on housing” is undoubtedly a welcome one.

"The Autumn Statement has seen a huge boost for housing with a £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to deliver infrastructure for 100,000 new homes in areas of high demand and an additional £1.4bn for 40,000 new affordable homes.

"The housing market remains desperate for more affordable homes and the government’s reaffirmation of their commitment to this is a positive step.

"Although expected, the Autumn Statement delivered yet another potential blow for the rental market with the announcement of a ban on letting agents charging fees to tenants.

"Exercise should be cautioned here as agents may be forced to move fees towards landlords.

"Landlords already recovering from the recent stamp duty surcharge and proposed tax changes, may look to increase rents to recover costs.

"This would have an impact on those the Chancellor is striving to protect –renters, who may already be struggling to save and enter the property market.

"The correct balance needs to be found between allowing regulated letting agencies to recover reasonable costs whilst protecting tenants from excessive charges."


Paul Aplin, tax expert and partner at AC Mole and Sons

Somerset County Gazette:

"The Chancellor didn’t really have much room to manoeuvre with the national debt at £1.6 trillion and borrowing for the current year running ahead of target, so it was unsurprising that there were no really big changes announced.

"The seventh successive freeze on fuel duty will be welcomed by drivers and businesses alike, but the increase in insurance premium tax from 10 per cent to 12 per cent will be unwelcome.

"The most recent ICAEW Business Confidence Monitor shows that business confidence remains depressed (though less marked in the south west than most of the rest of the UK).

"The uncertainty created by the referendum adds to the other uncertainties faced by businesses: increasing inflation, a weakened pound and a question mark over interest rates. Mr Hammond didn’t really say anything to ease that uncertainty, other than to say that the IMF expects the UK to be the fastest growing major economy this year.

"The additional commitment to funding and encouraging research and development is welcome."


Nick Scull, tax director at Albert Goodman LLP

Somerset County Gazette:

"Mr Hammond made only a relatively few changes to the tax code in this his first Autumn Statement, and chose instead to focus on the economy and infrastructure spending.

"Overall I would expect most local people to be a little relieved by this, and at the same time there were some interesting changes in a few places that help to indicate the direction of travel for our new Chancellor.

"Local businesses may have cause for concern when Mr Hammond announced that operating a business through a limited company costs the government tax revenue and “the government will consider how we can ensure that the taxation of different ways of working is fair between different individuals”.

"Many will argue that the additional risks faced by those who run their own business deserve to be recognised in the tax system, especially when profits are being reinvested back into the business.

"We will be watching this development carefully and making our own representations.

"There have been a record number of consultations already this year, highlighting the degree of change that we can expect to the tax system in the coming year or so.

"The elephant in the room here is the Making Tax Digital proposals that will have businesses all making quarterly returns and effectively sharing their electronic business records with HMRC.

"Individuals will have to confirm that the information HMRC holds from third parties is correct.

"These changes are the subject of extensive consultation but the Government’s deadline for implementation is considered far too ambitious by most commentators.

"There were a welcome raft of further anti-avoidance measures, including new penalties for those participating in VAT fraud and penalties for advisers when their schemes are defeated in the courts.

"In my own experience the demand for aggressive tax avoidance schemes has all but evaporated, and this has come through a combination of public sentiment, which is reflected in the judgements of the courts, and lower tax rates, particularly capital gains tax and corporation tax.

"It was also refreshing to see Mr Hammond was prepared to accept that an innovative new share scheme introduced in 2013 had simply become a focus of tax avoidance – he has abolished it.

"Many thought at the time that the existing schemes were fine, so we will now fall back on these."

Somerset County Gazette:

The Leader of Somerset County Council has labelled today’s Autumn Statement 'a missed opportunity' to address the big issue of funding for social care.

Cllr John Osman welcomed the new Chancellor of the Exchequer’s stated commitments to investment in productivity, innovation and infrastructure. However, he was disappointed that the issue of sustainable funding to support adult social care has been put off until the next parliament.

Cllr Osman said: “The Chancellor has a tough job and I whole-heartedly welcome the importance he has placed on the closing the productivity gap, encouraging innovation and developing infrastructure.

"Those key themes have been identified as big issues across the region and it’s absolutely right to invest today for tomorrow’s economic future. 

“But what is really disappointing is the failure to face-up to the elephant in the room - future funding for social care as the population ages. It is a massive challenge for all local authorities.

"Three quarters of local authorities are expecting to overspend in this area this year and there is clearly a national issue that needs addressing.”

Earlier this month Cllr Osman wrote to the Chancellor suggesting several ways in which he could use his first post-Brexit financial statement to ease some of the pressures on local authorities, particularly in the area of social care budgets.

“The Council, our staff and providers will continue to work extremely hard to deliver this vital support for some of the most vulnerable residents,” said Cllr Osman.

“But today’s statement was a missed opportunity to make this a much more achievable aim.”

John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance

"Despite the incessant talk of austerity in the last six years, the truth is that spending has barely been trimmed. The Chancellor’s decision to slow the pace of deficit reduction means that we will run into two decades of living beyond our means, which is a frightening prospect.

"If economic headwinds are so turbulent that the Chancellor felt he had no other choice, then he should have delivered a major package of tax cuts to ease the pressure on families and business, not made new spending pledges with money we simply don’t have.

"As hard-pressed taxpayers struggle under rising bills, politicians continue to ignore the staggering levels of debt we're passing on to our children through irresponsible spending and a failure to find necessary savings."


Sarah McMonagle, Director of External Affairs at the Federation of Master Builders

“The Chancellor’s commitment to double annual capital spending on housing by 2020 demonstrates that he understands that house building and economic growth are intrinsically linked.

“For every £1 invested in construction, £2.84 is generated in the wider economy and therefore the best way to protect ourselves from an economic wobble as we leave the EU is to invest in our built environment.

“For that reason, the £1.4 billion announced for 40,000 affordable homes is welcome, as is the £1.3 billion for roads – the latter will help improve the UK’s infrastructure and make our economy more competitive.

“The Chancellor’s £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund is welcome and could go some way to solving the housing crisis.

“The burden of funding local infrastructure for new homes should not fall entirely on private house builders – however, as council budgets have been stripped back, local authorities have increasingly looked to developers, including even the very smallest developers, to plug these funding gaps.

“Heavy demands for Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy can make many small developments unviable.

“Key to the Fund’s success will be to ensure that it focuses on unlocking large numbers of small sites and not just small numbers of large sites.

“The Chancellor wants a ‘housing market that works for everyone’ and central to this is empowering small local house builders.

“We look forward to the Government’s forthcoming Housing White Paper which we hope will include further interventions to boost housing delivery through SME house builders, including a presumption in favour of smaller scale developments.”


Dr Mark Porter, BMA chair of council

“The Chancellor has chosen to ignore repeated calls from the health sector for much needed additional funding in today’s autumn statement.

“His claims that the NHS will receive £10bn in extra funding are misleading, as in reality the increase in health spending is less than half of that.

“This comes as figures released today show that the UK spends less on healthcare than the EU-average.

“The NHS has been under enormous pressure for some time now and things are steadily getting worse.

“Earlier this week the NAO showed that the financial stress on the NHS having an impact on the quality of patient care.

“Our hospitals are in the red, GPs are unable to keep up with the number of patients coming through the surgery door and staff morale is low. This is unacceptable and should be a wakeup call for ministers.

“With services struggling to keep up with demand, waiting times too high and staff shortages in many areas, we desperately need a plan to put the NHS on a sustainable, long-term footing.

“This is especially important as new transformation plans look likely to make £22bn in cuts across the country.

“The NHS is already the most efficient health service in the world - further efficiency savings alone simply will not be enough to plug the gap. We need a bold plan from the government and a commitment to invest what is needed – on both fronts the Chancellor has fallen well short.”