The Enterprise Investment Scheme, Business Relief or Venture Capital Trusts may not be top of Boris Johnson’s to-do list having arrived at Number 10, but his early plans could have a major bearing on the sector.
To the surprise of no-one (probably including Jeremy Hunt), Johnson was crowned the new Conservative Party leader on Tuesday, and succeeded Theresa May into Downing Street the day after.
Given that Johnson was the frontrunner ever since the leadership campaign got underway, there has already been plenty of discussion about what his first days in office might bring, which might normally mean there are some pretty good indications of what we can expect to see from him. But of course, Johnson is nothing if not unorthodox, making second-guessing his plans rather tricky.
Nonetheless, some of his top priorities will have implications for the investment space, whether he means them to or not.
Let’s start with the big one: Brexit. Johnson has repeatedly insisted the UK will leave the European Union on 31 October and no later, whether or not there is a deal. While he softened his initial rhetoric by insisting ‘no deal’ was not his preference, investor confidence has still taken a hit.
One of the biggest outcomes of the Brexit situation is the likelihood that investors will choose to keep hold of their cash at least until a deal is hammered out – Johnson appears convinced that he can get a better deal than the one secured by Theresa May, so many may choose to keep a watching brief, at least until the autumn when the picture could become a little clearer.
There are also some doubts, of course, that Johnson will in fact secure any new deal, and commentators still don’t know for sure how much of his rhetoric on Brexit was aimed specifically towards the Tory membership – who are overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. When trying to appeal to the wider country, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Prime Minister Johnson will look to be more conciliatory. This again may convince some that they are better off not investing until the ‘true’ intentions of the new leader become clear.
A key move already made by Johnson has been the decision to install former Home Secretary Sajid Javid alongside him in Number 11 Downing Street as his chancellor.
Of the 17 cabinet appointments made by Johnson on his first day in office, Javid’s role will have the most long-term impact, and there are plenty of commentators who believe the next incumbent will finally throw off the shackles of austerity. No longer considered a vote-winner, the austerity mantra adopted by David Cameron and George Osborne could be replaced by new investment initiatives from government, in a move that could increase confidence both among small businesses and investors.
As a former investment banker and board member of Deutsche Bank International, Javid should certainly have a grasp on the numbers – potentially making him a less ‘political’ chancellor than some of his recent predecessors.
Having said that, Javid is considered to be on the Thatcherite wing of the Tory party, suggesting his interventions would most likely seek to favour market liberalisation and stimulating private enterprise.
Javid’s predecessor Philip Hammond, of course, made some significant impacts in the tax efficient space, introducing the risk to capital requirements for Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) as well as focusing the former on knowledge-intensive companies. The good news is that the legislation on the government’s knowledge-intensive fund appeared in draft form just last week, and appears set to make its way through parliament rather uncontroversially.
Finally, there are Johnson’s views on taxation. Again, it remains difficult to completely nail down what we can expect from the new prime minister. However, when campaigning for the job, Johnson pledged to raise the higher income tax rate from £50,000 to £80,000. When he was still a contender in the leadership race, Javid described himself as a ‘low tax person’ and said he would consider cutting the top rate of tax, meaning he is likely to be on board with Johnson’s plans in this area. In theory, Johnson’s proposals could result in fewer people looking at using EIS and VCTs to mitigate their tax liabilities.
However, in practice this is unlikely to have a significant impact. After all, the risk to capital requirements mean that EIS and VCT investments are only really appropriate for those investors who have substantial sums to invest in the first place and secondly are sufficiently comfortable that losing such an investment would not have a materially detrimental impact on their living conditions. That implies that most such investors would likely be earning above the new £80,000 threshold.
The good news in all this is that, as someone who campaigned for Leave and will therefore be keen to extract all the benefits he can from exiting the EU, Johnson may want to be seen to be throwing off the shackles of EU regulation. This might lead to a rolling back of the state aid rules that currently have to be complied with around EIS, VCT and other tax advantaged investments.
Furthermore, Johnson will know – and if he doesn’t will surely be prompted by his private sector-savvy chancellor – that investing in British businesses will be vital post-Brexit. Therefore, enhancing the tools to do so must be a core tenet of whatever the ‘Johnsonian’ era brings.