As UK construction companies struggle under the weight of the economic downturn and fears grow for thousands of jobs, several proposals to ease their burden have been put forward..
• The sector could benefit from Alistair Darling’s pledge last month to bring forward public spending on construction projects including new schools, hospitals, social housing and other public buildings by allowing departments to spend budgets due for 2010-2011 next year. But despite being hailed as an exemplar of Keynesian economics, it does not herald the injection of ‘new’ money.
• Business secretary Peter Mandelson has pledged that public sector clients, including the government, local authorities and the NHS, will be required to pay small firms within 10 days, part of a package of support measures that also includes £350m towards training and skills.
• Ian Pearson, juggling his roles as construction minister at the BERR and economic secretary at the Treasury, said that the banks being recapitalised by the government – namely the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Halifax Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB – have committed to ‘maintain the availability and active marketing of competitively priced lending to SMEs at a level at least equivalent to that of 2007’. That’s £53m. As CM went to press, he was expected to meet with the banks to flesh out the details.
• The Federation of Small Businesses has laid out proposals for a £1bn small-business survival fund. The federation wants the survival fund to replace the small firms loan guarantee scheme and for it to be funded by the government and the European Investment Bank. It also pressed HM Revenue & Customs to be lenient with smaller firms that are struggling to pay their VAT or corporation tax bills.
• The UK’s leading high street banks have promised to continue to support small businesses through the downturn, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) said. The BBA is writing to MPs to set out the actions banks are taking to help small businesses deal with the downturn. However, in a letter to the BBA, the Forum of Private Business said there was little evidence that banks’ lending policies had changed.
• Unhappy with the government’s proposals, Conservative leader David Cameron also called for emergency temporary tax cuts for small firms, including a 1% cut in national insurance for those with four employees or less. He also recommended giving firms a six-month grace period for late payment of VAT to aid cash flow.