Government suspends tariffs on key imports to boost SMEs launching £660 million northern powerhouse fund

18 March 2024, 08:18

Kemi Badenoch: £660m for the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The government has announced that import tariffs on a variety of goods, such as flowers, fruit juices, and chemicals, will be temporarily lifted for two years, ahead of a small business-focused conference.

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At the event in Warwickshire later today, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch is set to reveal a £660 million investment initiative for the "northern powerhouse", with the conference also featuring appearances by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and various Cabinet members alongside business figures.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, the Business Secretary said "this year is the year of the SME" as she said SME's make up "about 99% of businesses" which is why the scheme was so important.

The Business Secretary told LBC: "We're going to be launching the Norther Powerhouse investment fund, that's worth about £660 million, we'll be fully funding apprenticeships in small businesses from the 1st of April, there's a simplification package for all the red tape they have, removing burdensome reporting."

"This is just another day for us to show how we are trying to make life easier for entrepreneurs and people who are being productive and helping to grow the economy."

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The conference will also feature appearances by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and various Cabinet members alongside business figures.
The conference will also feature appearances by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and various Cabinet members alongside business figures. Picture: Alamy

This suspension of tariffs, effective from April 11 until June 2026, is expected to aid UK importers dealing with over 120 types of products from worldwide, as stated by the Department for Business and Trade.

The list of affected goods, which includes both agricultural items like juices and starches and non-agricultural items such as ceramics and car components, is to be made public on Monday.

This step is aimed particularly at bolstering the competitiveness of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) on a global scale.

Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake commented on the initiative: "By taking advantage of Brexit freedoms, we aim to reduce the import costs for SMEs that deal in goods ranging from flowers to car parts and leathers, thereby offering consumers better value for money."

He highlighted the significance of SMEs in the UK, noting that they constitute approximately 99.9% of all businesses, underscoring the government's commitment to supporting their growth and success.

Following its departure from the European Union, the UK introduced an independent scheme for tariff suspension in December 2020, permitting businesses to request temporary duty suspensions.

During her address at the conference, Ms Badenoch will announce the launch of a new fund by the state-owned British Business Bank, designed to empower SMEs in Northern England through loans and equity, reflecting ongoing government efforts to tackle regional disparities.

This announcement comes amid criticisms of the government's efforts to equalise opportunities across regions, with the Public Accounts Committee recently highlighting significant delays in levelling up initiatives and questioning the tangible outcomes of these efforts.

The inaugural SME Connect event is set to gather around 150 SMEs and business organisations from throughout the UK, including the Federation of Small Businesses, providing insights into how regulations can bolster businesses, the application of artificial intelligence, and how to navigate finance, skills, and education sectors. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage with Mr Sunak, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

In his forthcoming economic address since the Budget, the Prime Minister is anticipated to unveil a comprehensive reform package aimed at supporting small businesses and increasing apprenticeship opportunities.