Chris Cowcher, Head of Policy reflects on yesterday’s Autumn Statement.

We recognise that the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement was delivered against the backdrop of multiple crises impacting the global community right now. It was also never going to be “give away” budget.

However, responding to the challenges we are facing right now is a matter of urgency. Has the chancellor gone far enough to support those businesses in our sector that are most in need right now? It certainly would appear that the big ticket items around tax are “for the future” but the reality is that we had hoped for a response to the crises faced today.

Even before yesterday’s announcement, our Policy and Research Team has identified that around 1 in 5 community-owned businesses supported by Plunkett are ‘vulnerable’ as a result of the financial pressures they currently face. Costs are rising across the board for energy, wholesale goods, and staff wages. The knock-on effects such as a fall in custom are deeply concerning for many.

The stark news that accompanied yesterday’s statement from the Chancellor, that living standards are going to drop to levels not seen since the 1950s, has hit these small businesses hard, given the enormous impact it will have on their staff, volunteers, customers and all members of their community.

Community businesses need support now:

Community-owned businesses are set up to meet locally-identified needs and deliver an abundance of social impact in their local area. As a result of the financial pressures they face the critical services they are delivering, the very reason many exist in the first place, are under threat of having to be reduced or withdrawn all together. We are even hearing from some groups that long-term or even permanent closure is being considered as they respond to this moment. The idea that simple necessities, such as access to affordable food in a local shop, or to a warm community space to sit for a chat, might be taken from people at the time they need it most is unthinkable.

The fact is that in order to keep providing these vital services, community businesses need support right now, and we do not feel that the Chancellor offered the kind of reassurances we had hoped to see. In a survey of Plunkett members this week, 79% felt that the Government was not doing enough to help small rural businesses. Whilst not all support will come from the Government, the Autumn Statement sets the tone for the weeks, months and years ahead. However, the details needed to enable businesses to plan for the same period were lacking yesterday.

Focusing on what was included, the announcement of a £13.6bn package to underpin support for businesses rates over the next 5 years is welcome, as is the ongoing commitment to support retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a 75% rate relief next year. This will definitely benefit community-owned businesses and pubs in particular for the foreseeable future. We would now encourage Government to look to the future and consider how community and social businesses and enterprises can be supported in the long-term through permanent business rate discounts that are consistently applied across the country.

All those involved with community businesses (including Plunkett’s own staff) will be pleased to hear of the continued energy bills support for households beyond March next year. Also that those living ‘off-grid’ will see an increase in their support payments too. However the lack of detail on a future scheme for businesses continues to sow uncertainty in our sector. We cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to provide clarity on this at the earliest opportunity. Businesses need to prepare their longer term operational budgets and the cliff edge they face (without support) in April makes that very difficult at the moment.

The announcement of an “energy efficiency taskforce” was another positive initiative, which will look to the future of our national supply. However this must not simply be a closed shop discussion, which focuses solely on private businesses. We call on the Government to think innovatively in relation to energy supply and embrace the advances that that community-owned power generation and supply has made in recent times. Retro-fit action to make buildings more energy efficient is also critical right now – particularly for many rural properties where businesses are trading from “hard to heat, hard to treat” premises. This was action we had hoped could have been included yesterday.

The protection of current capital expenditure budgets, including an announced commitment to £1.7bn Levelling Up projects is hopefully positive news for the long term. We now need details about the future of UK Community Ownership Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund as soon as possible, to give confidence to those in our sector seeking to apply for funding support now. We will of course be monitoring for any further updates, but it is vital that our sector continues to receive this investment right now – particularly as community ownership may be a way for some areas to protect assets, businesses and services that are at risk of closure. With so many other funders also having changed their priorities, the opportunity for community ownership projects to secure grant funding – particularly if they are located in rural areas is now rare, which is why we urge Government to protect these funds going forward.

Finally, the increase to the living wage is of course welcome and a much needed action to help a huge number of families. We know from our research (‘Better Form of Business’ 2022) that paying the Real Living Wage is a priority for the majority of community pubs and shops. However, it represents another expenditure that businesses must factor into their operation, amongst all other financial pressures.

Our sector needs:

  1. Dedicated funding for small businesses to support retro-fit insulation and energy efficiency action
  2. Confirmation of the long term future of the Community Ownership Fund
  3. Clarity on the details of the energy bill relief support for businesses beyond March 2023

Please keep in touch:

Plunkett is incredibly proud of all community-owned businesses UK-wide for their commitment to support their communities right now. We want these businesses to know that we appreciate how hard things are right now and we are here for you. Plunkett will continue to represent your interests and raise your experiences with Government. Please use our support and advice services to help your business right now. Keep in touch via or 01993 630022.

If you want to find out more about our policy, advocacy and external affairs work please visit this page on our website. Or alternatively get in touch with Chris via

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