We need assurance on energy concerns

The Master Cutler, Tony Pedder
The Master Cutler, Tony Pedder

It seems a bit negative not to give a strong endorsement to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

After all, the figures he quoted suggest the economy is starting to recover encouragingly. Critically, his stewardship of the economy seems to be leading us back towards sound public finances.

Additionally, he introduced some helpful measures on business rates, skills, innovation, unemployed young people, household fuel bills and fuel duty for motorists.

He had previously announced some ambitious future intentions with regard to major infrastructure investment. While the detail of which projects will be pursued over coming years is still to be finalised, the scale of the plan seems of the right order to meet future priorities.

So far so good but for me what was missing was any indication that the Government will do what’s needed to permanently sort out the issues on energy for industry. I have referred to in this column previously and I feel that difficulties in this area are a major barrier to really rebalancing our economy in UK more towards the manufacturing sector. I was looking for a clear signal that these concerns are recognised.

At the very least, I was looking for an extension of the modest compensation measures recently introduced for energy intensive businesses.

The silence in this area was worrying and undermined much of the rest of the Statement. I will continue to press the case for a more competitive energy market, particularly for manufacturing industry. This is my last column of 2013 and hence a look ahead seems appropriate. Generally, the signs for 2014 look encouraging.

Many companies are seeing improved order books and, while export orders remain challenging, as the Eurozone growth is still weak and some emerging markets are still well off their previous growth levels, there is some optimism that overall, sales in 2014 will continue the upward trend of recent months.

Getting this to the point where companies have enough confidence to really invest in capital projects to build their businesses is critical. This will be a turning point as it will start to draw in some of those UK companies who are yet to really feel any significant recovery. My prediction is that we will see that in the second half of 2014 – I certainly hope so.

My best wishes to all businesses in the Sheffield City region for success in 2014.