The chancellor's pre-Budget report has served to underline the government's most glaring failures this year - failures not of policy but of presentation. From the new employee share plan to capital gains tax reform, both the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses said Gordon Brown had addressed many of their concerns. But away from the bright lights of Whitehall, that message was lost. Back in March, ministers came under fire for delivering a Budget long on self-congratulation and short on substance. Last week the reverse was true. While lobbyists said Brown had delivered, small businesses said he had ignored the real issues they face. According to this week's Accountancy Age Big Question, most SME finance directors think Brown was more interested in headlines than helping smaller companies. 'Smokescreen', 'cosmetic' and 'PRish' were among the criticisms. This was probably a little harsh. But, with its emphasis on presentation and image, the government has only itself to blame. However there was much to commend. An inquiry into the burdens on small business by Lord Trotman may not be the immediate anti-red tape crusade many hoped for. But it shows the government is serious about lifting the burden. Come next March, Brown needs to learn from his mistakes: a Budget speech that simply glosses over unpleasant sounding detail will only serve to make people more suspicious next time around.
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