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Chancellor Philip Hammond promises action on late payments and consultation on extending tax-free training to the self-employed

Chancellor Philip Hammond has promised action on late payments – a perennial business issue – as well as a consultation on extending tax-free training to the self-employed. 

The pledges came as Hammond made his Spring statement to the House of Commons, in which he also named the first areas to receive £95 million from the government’s full-fibre fund. 

During the 20-minute update, Hammond confirmed the first £95 million allocation from the government’s £190 million Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) challenge fund, first announced during last year’s autumn statement. 

The fund, his speech pledged, will go towards a series of projects that “seek to stimulate the market by making the deployment of gigabit-capable full fibre infrastructure more commercially viable”.

Some of the successful projects include using hospitals and GP surgeries as “anchor tenants” to provide a full-fibre “hub” that surrounding homes and businesses can hook into; upgrading schools, libraries and emergency response buildings to gigabit-capable full fibre connections; and creating “fibre spines” along major transport routes and public building networks.  

The areas to receive the £95 million fibre-injections were named on Tuesday as Armagh City, Belfast, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Coventry, The Highlands, London, Manchester, Mid Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth, and Wolverhampton.

Hammond also used his spring statement to reaffirm the government’s commitment to 5G, confirming £25 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) that will be used to a series of 5G testbeds across the country. 

The Chancellor also turned his attention to the issue of taxing major technology and internet companies, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, announcing that there will be a consultation on the issue.

“Corporate tax rules respond to the modernisation of the economy and deliver appropriate results for digital businesses that generate value in a unique way,” Hammond said.

After announcing plans to bring forward the next business rates revaluation – just as retailers are being hit with the full force of the last one – he announced plans to “launch a Call for Evidence to understand how best we can help the UK’s least productive businesses to learn from, and catch-up with, the most productive.

“And another on how we can eliminate the continuing scourge of late payments – a key ask from small business.”

He also pledged £50 million from next month to employers prepare for the rollout of T-Level work placements. T-Levels are technical qualifications intended to take the place of the various post-16 vocational training schemes in a £500 million initiative. 

This comes in addition to £80 million in funding “to support those small businesses in engaging an apprentice”. 

For the self-employed, Hammond also promised “a consultation on improving the way the tax system supports self-funded training by employees and the self-employed”, a promise that met with the approval of IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed. 

In a statement to Computing, ISPE described the late payments and tax-free training pledges as a “major victory”. 

It added: “We have been campaigning long and hard both on tax-free training and on clamping down on late payments for the self-employed,” said IPSE CEO Chris Bryce. 

He continued: “Tax-free training is, if anything, an even bigger victory for IPSE and the self-employed.

“Not only is it unjust that self-employed people don’t have the same relief for training as employees; our research has also shown that lack of access to training is also one of the biggest factors holding back struggling, vulnerable self-employed people.”

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