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The Autumn Statement—Publishers react
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Posted by IPG
The Autumn Statement has given Philip Hammond the unenviable task of trying to help families who are struggling to get by and show that post-Brexit Britain will be 'open for business'—and do all this while controlling an eye-watering debt pile. How it will affect publishing is yet to be seen, but there was nothing to end the uncertainty brought on by the Brexit vote and encourage companies and individuals to invest in an uncertain future.
He did make some moves to improve the lot of lower paid staff, of which there are plenty in publishing. It’s good to see the promised rise in the National Living wage to £7.50 alongside the rise in the level at which lower paid workers begin to pay tax to £11,500. It does seem amazing that our productivity is so far behind our neighbours in Germany, and even France and Italy—though I am sure this is not true in the publishing industry—but it would be nice if some of the £23bn National Productivity Fund found its way into the pockets of publishers in recognition of their role in the digital transformation. Likewise it’s also good to see investment in the country’s digital infrastructure. But I am not sure that many people will see this news as doing much more than tinkering. After all, I don’t think the government knows what is ahead, once we are outside the EU, any more than we do. Caroline de la Bedoyere, Search Press and IPG chair

Overall, it’s a bit of a holding position while we wait on the outcome of Brexit, and the figures support IPG members’ fears that the outcome of the Referendum will damage the UK economy. Measures to support start-ups and rationality—an area on which the IPG is working—are welcome. There is no significant reform of business rates, which leaves independent booksellers still struggling. James Woollam, F+W Media and IPG vice chair

Plenty of tinkering, but very little to keep publishers awake at night—or, indeed, to allow us to sleep more easily. The promised infrastructure investment in broadband and transport is to be welcomed, as is the reduction of corporation tax to 17%, although this will make little difference to most IPG members. Also pleasing is the increase in the income tax threshold to £11,500, in an industry with its fair share of part-time workers. The scrapping of the Autumn Statement in favour of a single annual Budget will be welcomed by pretty much everyone, except perhaps tax advisers and, of course, tax publishers. Jim Smith, Globe Law & Business and IPG Patron

There’s very little in the Autumn Statement that will significantly impact on our business beyond corporation tax falling to 17% by 2020 and the forecast that growth will be slower than expected. The announcement that spending on adult education is to be devolved to local authorities could have an impact on some of our FE publishing, and the creation of the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway could perhaps be a good thing for publishing in a very general way. Di Page, Critical Publishing

It was a so-so Autumn Statement with no huge changes for publishers. It was nice to see that crime is down and schools overall are improving, but the outlook for the economy looks very rocky post-Brexit, and it is certainly time to aim to have a strong cash position. The news on corporation tax was good for businesses, and the increase in personal allowances good for society—but overall I expect far wider reaching changes next year when the Chancellor announces his Budget. The phasing out of the Autumn Statement seems like a sensible simplification of how the country's finances are looked after and communicated. Taxing of additional employee benefits is a headache for businesses. Martin Casimir, Maths No Problem!

The Autumn Statement is a bit of a mixed bag. I’m pleased to see investment in the digital infrastructure and support for exporters. The cut in corporation tax is also good, but I am concerned that there is no mention of alleviating the pressure in education, nor support for retailers by tackling business rates. But most worrying is that there appears to be very little to address the OBR's projection of a £59bn hole in public finances left by Brexit. Helen Kogan, Kogan Page

As expected there was not much of specific relevance for SME publishing businesses. There is now a happy consensus on the need for infrastructure investment, hopefully including rail links to green and sunny Cheltenham. The higher tax-free threshold for lower earners will be welcome for many in our industry, as will investment in housing, though it remains to be seen whether this will really deliver the level of affordable housing we need. Tim Williams, Edward Elgar Publishing

The Chancellor's Statement was appropriately cautious, given the unknown unknowns with which both the Treasury and the Office of Budget Responsibility are trying to deal. Clearly we are now forecasting post-Brexit levels of national debt that would, until this spring, have been regarded as utterly unacceptable: the imponderable is whether this strategy will render the economy 'match-fit', as the government hopes, or merely able to limp along the touchline.
From an IPG perspective, nothing, in an immediate sense, has changed very markedly, although there will be individual members impacted by specific pieces of legislation, not least some of the infrastructural proposals. But until Article 50 is triggered, whenever that might be, and negotiations start in earnest, the real long-term economic consequences of Brexit will remain shrouded in mystery. To that extent, the Chancellor was trying to give himself as much wriggle-room as possible, with some of the key fiscal principles of the Osborne era now consigned to history. Politically, the splenetic reactions to the Autumn Statement from some MPs show just how raw the wounds of the Brexit debate remain, and levels of mutual suspicion are inevitably compounded given that 'we don't really know'—even when entirely true—is never a happy position for a government to admit to. Richard Fisher, IPG academic and policy correspondent

I think what is clear is that the economy hasn’t yet seen the effects of the decision to leave the EU. The economy is growing, but even by the government’s admission it will grow a lot less quickly once the actual nature of Brexit is made clear. Whether our industry and others can ‘tick over’ while we are in this period of hiatus is questionable. So the sooner we know what Brexit actually means the better, as long as the process isn’t rushed and handled poorly.
I think raising the minimum wage is a good idea—the rises in the cost of living far outweigh wages—and people who are willing to work and put the hours in should be able to live a reasonable life; that's not too much to ask. Other than that, there are few carrots to the 'Just About Managings' (JAMs). A £500 rise in personal allowance, a freeze in fuel duty—but to be frank, there's not much to get excited about. Phil Turner, Meze Publishing

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