Entrepreneurs are Darling's Darlings

Last Updated Mar 25, 2010 7:27 AM EDT

Whether you approved of the Budget speech today largely depends on how deep your pockets are -- and accountancy firm BDO's gone ahead and called it the 'Robin Hood Budget' because Chancellor Darling's only real targets today were higher earners (who already knew what was coming for the most part).

While first time buyers got stamp duty relief on properties up to £250,000, those buying £1m-plus pads would see stamp duty rise to five percent. And while Darling protested that it was "not dogma or ideology" that resulted in the top five percent of earners being targeted, this was a highly political Budget statement aimed at appeasing the majority and courting, in particular, the small business vote.

The Chancellor was at pains, though, to make everyone a winner -- and to court growth businesses and talk up UK talent in the games industries, pharma and and advanced manufacturing. How did he do?

Stimulating small business investment: Bailed-out banks, as expected, were commited to lending around £41bn to small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, and the government pledged to review credit denial procedures by creating a Small Business Credit Adjudicator.

The financial regulator, the FSA, meanwhile, would expedite its processes for approving the creation of new banks.
Business rates will be cut from October, with 345,000 businesses exempt as a result, Annual Investment Allowance is doubled to £100,00 and entrepreneurs' relief to £2m (total).

By creating the £4bn UK Finance for Growth and a £200m capital growth fund, the government hopes to draw together all the disparate funding sources (and simplify the process of applying for funds along the way, presumably).

Will this stimulate small businesses to invest more and expand? Delta Economics's Rebecca Harding is doubtful: while praising the centralisation and simplification of funding, she questions whether small business bosses are ready to take investment risks that require funding. "You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make it drink," she says. Fast-tracking credit complaints now is a little late, adds Brendan Flattery of Sage.

Verdict: Encouraging measures for small businesses and entrepreneurs with the nerve to seek funding, but less love for big business bosses.
Stemming the brain drain Ideas-based industries are driving UK success, according to the Chancellor, who singled out the gaming industry as an example of somewhere where we need to stem the brain drain.

To try and stem the departure of talent and boost entrepreneurship, a £35m enterprise capital fund has been created for university spin-outs. Darling talked of 'guaranteed' work experience/apprenticeships or jobs for 18-24-year-olds, a £2.5bn 'one-off growth package' funded by tax takings. He's also creating more university places from this September for STEM undergraduates. So history students are fresh out of luck.

Older employees are slightly left out here, although Darling talked of plans to reform or scrap the statutory retirement age while extending tax credits for over-60s.

A £2bn green investment bank is clearly courting the government's desire to generate jobs and skills in clean-tech and digital indsutries. But the ideas here are effectively repackaged from the government's own "New Industries, New Jobs" strategy.

And while Darling's aim was to reinforce the idea that the UK's a great investment home for science and advanced manufacturing job, this part of his speech rang hollow in parts. Philip Booth, professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School, dismissed the green bank as a vehicle for government to back pet projects, rather than ones that business deems profitable.

Verdict: props for recognising the promise of video games and clean-tech industries to the UK's economic future, but a lot of rhetoric and a sense of old initiatives repackaged.

That's our take: but what about you? Feel free to share your views on this year's Budget, either below, or at @bnetjh
(Photo: London Summit CC2.0)