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Leader: 2009 will be a rough year for all – but now it’s manageable

Though the construction industry needs an even bigger boost, the pre-Budget report will ease pressure for small-to-medium business

As perennially unfashionable as they are, it was the Liberal Democrats who were talking sense in Parliament after Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report had been delivered.

After the ruddy-cheeked bluster of shadow chancellor George Osborne, it was Vince Cable of the Lib Dems who stood up to advocate concentrating on social housing as the stimulus that the economy needs, flagging the pressing need for such accommodation, and the wide range of businesses that are kept busy by building houses. This is the kind of action that architecture practices, big and small, would have welcomed.

But the ‘stimulus’ activity promised will be the bringing forward of roads, schools and some energy-efficiency measures. This will be cold comfort to most architects. We’d all love to have a Building Schools for the Future (BSF) contract to see us through the recession, but precious few will. Public spending alone will not see the construction industry through this recession, and investment in housing could have given a shot in the arm to stalled regeneration projects across the country.

However, there were some promised measures that will help smaller businesses. For many architecture businesses, there will have been the feeling that the budget may keep the wolf from the door. The £1 billion Small Business Finance scheme sounds encouraging for much of the profession, guaranteeing bank lending to small and medium enterprises in a way that should keep banks from being too aggressive in their tactics. It also should make money available to small businesses with high levels of debt. The deferral of the rise in corporation tax also offers a small comfort.

To benefit from these measures will involve being proactive, though. The option to spread payments to the taxman should be exercised, but you need to talk to HMRC to arrange the terms. You should talk to the taxman and your bank manager now. The government predictions for recession in 2009 mean smaller businesses need to prepare for the worst.

kieran.long@emap.com

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