Tim Davies-Pugh, Chief Executive said:
Today’s Autumn Statement announcement was a missed opportunity to provide the proper resources and backing community business needs to thrive. In the King’s Speech the government said it would “put local people in control of their future” and “strengthen the social fabric” of the country, and both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have pledged to “back British business”. But judging by the Autumn Statement, there is a gulf between what has been said, and what is being done.
The government has listened to Power to Change and others in the sector by ensuring the third round of the Levelling Up Fund was allocative not competitive, but there is still more listening for them to do. Our evidence shows that community business needs long-term and flexible place-based funding which provides the certainty to truly control their future. While new devolution deals are welcome, polling consistently shows that people trust local community groups to bring about change in their local area more than regional mayors; power, properly resourced, needs to reach the neighbourhood level.
Plans outlined for future day-to-day spending and investment mean that questions remain around the adequacy of funding for local government and public services, and OBR forecasts living standards are to be 30 per cent lower in 2024-25 than pre-pandemic. In 2022, 77% of community businesses reported increased demand for support related to the cost of food. Community businesses are already stepping in to provide more health and social care, education and childcare support to their communities. We need to learn lessons from the Big Society, not repeat its mistakes.
Backing British business means backing community business too. That means treating community business like other forms of enterprise and making sure they are included in measures government puts forward to grow and nurture British business. The extension of 75% business rates relief for retail, hospitality, and leisure is a positive step which will benefit some community businesses, but without a dedicated business rates relief for community business, many will continue to fall through the cracks.
Government had the opportunity to recognise the potential of community business and follow through on the promising rhetoric to provide the right resources and backing for community business so that they can thrive. On these measures, the Autumn Statement failed to deliver.