While all eyes are on the election race, the possibility of another coalition government means that the long-term changes to the commercial and tax landscape affecting the channel and the businesses they work with are unclear.
However, George Osborne's budget just a few weeks ago revealed some important commercial opportunities that businesses in the channel can act on now.
Firstly, what the chancellor said - or rather didn't say - about the Annual Investment Allowance could mean that the next few months are busy as businesses digest the implications for any major technology investments they need to make.
It had widely been expected that the allowance, which gives 100 per cent relief against tax for capital investments, would be slashed from its current level of £500,000 to just £25,000.
The Chancellor conceded that a limit of £25,000 would be too low, but deferred any decision about the new level until later in the year. The Conservative party is alone in promising in their manifesto that the allowance will be ‘significantly higher' than £25,000, but even that commitment leaves room for uncertainty.
For any business contemplating a complete IT overhaul or new architecture, that makes putting investment off until next year highly risky. The problem is that there is simply no guarantee what the new allowance will be.
Businesses need to understand that any major investment needs to be ordered in the next couple of months, as it needs to be on site by the end of December in order to qualify for the £500,000 worth of relief available this calendar year. Missing that deadline will certainly mean a bigger tax bill, potentially much higher.
Of course many businesses may have limited capex budgets for this year but be keen to upgrade their technology and improve their efficiency as the economy creates more growth opportunities.
Looking at the broader picture, the budget sketched out a future in which regional incentives and regional business planning become much more important. Building the ‘northern powerhouse' was a major theme, but it is clear that the focus will not just be on the north.
The first change announced was an enlargement of eight of the 24 existing 'enterprise zones' around the country, and the addition of two new ones in Plymouth and Blackpool. These zones benefit from very generous tax incentives including a five-year business rate ‘holiday', and in some cases, 100 per cent enhanced capital allowances to businesses making large investments in plant and machinery.
There is also government support, and even funding to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out, making them a good potential location for data heavy businesses needing a substantial IT infrastructure. Some have a particular specialism, such as technology, advanced manufacturing, or business services.
If there is an enterprise zone in your area or catering for your key target market, it will be important to understand how you can engage with and support the businesses in it.
Watch this space too for further developments in the move to give major local authorities greater spending powers to use the money to attract business investment.
Greater Manchester and Cambridge look set to be the first cities to be given more control over the business rates they collect, which could result in new targeted support for businesses in those areas.
The UK economy is moving in the right direction. As business confidence grows, IT departments are more likely to get the budgets they need. There could be great opportunities for the channel in the coming months.
Andy Milsom is head of training and partner development at BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions
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