Budget 2011 supports digital, technology and creative businesses (mostly!)

Yesterday’s Budget speech provided largely good news for entrepreneurs in the digital, technology and creative sectors.

George Osborne had promised an “unashamedly” pro-business, pro-growth and pro-aspiration Budget and, although it might be over-flattering to suggest that he achieved this, he certainly made some positive inroads toward addressing some of the roadblocks facing early-stage startups and fast growth companies.

  1. The headline grabber was that the UK is set to have one of the lowest company (corporation) tax rates in the G7. To achieve this Osborne accelerated the previously promised rate cut by introducing a 26% standard rate from 1 April 2011. This will be followed by a series of 1% cuts until it reaches 23% by 2014. This is a further 1% cut to what we were expecting.  Good news if you’re a big company but of little consequence if you’re a startup or SME – as the standard rate only applies for single companies with taxable profits over £1.5m. Unfortunately there was no 2% cut for the small companies rate that applies for most startups and SMEs – the rate will be 20% from 1 April 2011 as previously promised. Still, 20% isn’t bad and if you’ve yet to incorporate your business into a company, it may well be worth crunching the number to see if tax savings could be made.
  2. R&D tax credits get a whole lot better – Research and Development Tax Credits are a key tax incentive for many companies in the tech and wider sectors so it was great news to see Dyson’s recommendations followed and in fact improved upon. Most startups and fast growth companies are already entitled to claim a further 75p tax deduction for every £1 they spend on qualifying R&D activities (primarily comprising relevant staff salary costs), however, it was announced that from 1 April 2011 companies can claim an additional £1 tax deduction for every £1 spent (i.e. a 200% tax deduction) and this set to go up to £1.25 for every £1 spent from 1 April 2012! There are also plans to remove the requirement for the company to have generated sufficient PAYE to cover the cash repayment, a requirement that has been a key roadblock for many companies, particularly start-ups, in making repayment claims. How many companies have significant PAYE bills in the early stages? Not many. There are also plans to abolish the de minimis limit of £10,000 qualifying R&D spend before you can make an R&D tax claim. These changes should open the doors to more companies being able to access cash at an earlier stage than was previously possible. All good news and if you haven’t looked at this for your business, please drop me a line.
  3. Entrepreneur’s Relief lifetime allowance doubled from £5m to £10m for sales after 5 April 2011. For all the blood, sweat and tears put into building your business it is encouraging to know that you will be able to shelter £10m of your gain at a tax rate of just 10% – that’s a potential £1.8m tax saving compared to applying the general CGT rate. I would have liked to have seen a relaxation in the qualifying criteria to assist employees with less than 5% shareholdings, but still, in theory, it will be possible to shelter gains of £200m at just 10% if structured correctly. Mouth-watering huh? At the very least, it is important that you ensure that you are maximising this relief by allocating shareholdings at the optimum levels although care must be taken as there are many pitfalls for the unwary – remember, there is potentially £1.8m of tax at stake….(a subject for another post – or drop me a line).
  4. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) is made much more attractive for investors in startups and fast growth companies. Accessing funding for business has been tough of late and we are increasingly seeing the private business angel networks as well as family and friends stepping into the fray to lend financial support where possible. EIS allows investors in qualifying businesses to obtain income tax relief as well as capital gains savings in relation to investments in startups and fast growth companies. The income tax relief will be increased from 20% to 30% from 6 April 2011 and we will see further sweeping changes in 2012 to increase the amount that can be invested and the breadth and scope of the relief.
  5. The ‘Patent Box’ is on its way! As previously announced, the UK will be following other countries in introducing a lower rate of corporation tax (10%) for patent income to encourage investment in new technologies and methodologies. Although likely to be of most interest to life science and pharma companies, it will be worth keeping an eye on this relief as more details emerge in readiness for its introduction from 1 April 2013 to see if it can be applied to tech companies more generally. As currently drafted, the rules will be too restrictive for most tech companies as few derive significant income from patents but I am hopeful that there will be a widening of scope to catch broader intellectual property classes as it undergoes consultation.
  6. 21 Enterprise Zones to be introduced (including in Greater Manchester and Liverpool) and £100m investment in Life Sciences and Technology with £10m to be invested in Daresbury Innovation Park. Creating clusters of innovative businesses builds support networks and knowledge transfer leading to fast growth businesses. A win-win.

These were the headline announcements relevant to digital, technology and creative businesses – we await the draft legislation which may throw up some anomalies or slight tweaks and I’ll keep you all posted.

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