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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Cumbria selected for rural growth pilot

Cumbrian business leaders have cautiously welcomed George Osborne’s ‘Budget for growth’, but the Chancellor is facing criticism over his failure to cut fuel duty.

Rob Johnston photo
Rob Johnston

Mr Osborne unveiled a number of business-boosting measures during yesterday’s speech, including a cut in Corporation Tax, changes to the way small businesses are taxed, superfast broadband development and more support for exporters.

And, in a development not included in the main speech, the Government revealed Cumbria would be included in a new pilot scheme to boost rural businesses, which could see millions pumped into the county.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce said he was “disappointed” the Chancellor did not reduce fuel duty.

“That is especially relevant in a rural county like Cumbria; we do still face extremely high fuel prices,” he said.

He added: “There were some very positive moves in the Budget for business which should make a real difference.

“We are disappointed that the Chancellor did not go further, particularly around support to help young people into employment and support for skills.

“The announcement of Cumbria as of one of the Government’s Rural Growth Network pilots is fabulous news.

“This will bring millions of pounds of funding into the county and provide a real boost to rural businesses and to our economy.

“The reduction in the headline rate of Corporation Tax is tremendous news for business.

“With this additional cut, we’ll have a rate of 24 per cent from this April, with further reductions giving us a rate of 22 per cent by 2014.

“Reducing the main rate of Corporation Tax again gives a clear signal that the UK is open for business and shows ministers are listening to business.”

Mr Johnston also backed the Government’s controversial changes to planning law, which will see a presumption in favour of development. Opponents say the moves will make it easier for developers to build on greenbelt land.

Mr Johnston said the proposals should “make a real difference to business”.

Gary Lovatt, Cumbria chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “We are pleased with some of the actions to cut red tape and measures to improve access to finance.

“Especially welcome are the proposals to simplify the tax system for the country’s smallest businesses.

“However, petrol prices remain a major concern and we would have liked some further action on reducing the level of fuel duty to help small businesses.

“In areas like Cumbria fuel costs can really bite hard so this is a disappointment, as is the focus of broadband development for cities. Digital services in many parts of Cumbria are wholly inadequate and that is where efforts should be focused to avoid a digital divide.

“We welcome the move to introduce loans for young people (to start businesses) which bodes well for the Cumbrian economy going forward.”

The precise details of Cumbria’s Rural Growth Network have yet to be announced, but it is hoped the scheme could see up to 480 new companies launched, creating close to 1,000 jobs.

Cumbria was included after a bid was submitted by the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

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