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What is in Liz Truss's in tray?

What is in Liz Truss's in tray?

It is hard to remember a period in recent times when an incoming prime minister has faced the mountain of challenges that Liz Truss does.

First and foremost, high energy prices are set to cripple households and businesses as autumn and winter approach.

The fact that these are problems she has inherited will not give her a free pass.

So, what does the financial services industry want from a Truss-backed government?

Businesses, as well as households, crucially need clarity on support they may be offered over the coming months.

Larger companies will have been in the position to hedge some of their energy costs, so they will not be as exposed to energy price rises in the short term. However, many small and medium-sized businesses will feel an acute squeeze on costs. 

The consumer discretionary sector is expected to be the most at risk from higher energy costs as consumers rein in spending on big-ticket items, such as cars and household goods, as well as clothing and footwear.

The big question is what, if any, measures can be provided to help support businesses. The price increases they have seen reflect the rises in the wholesale cost of gas immediately, without the benefit of a lag through a price cap, as is the case with domestic consumers. Small businesses have experienced a four-fold increase in energy costs over the past 18 months.

'Businesses will be destroyed'

Dan Boardman-Weston, chief executive and chief investment officer at BRI Wealth Management, says: “Without support from the government, countless perfectly viable businesses will be destroyed while energy prices remain high.”

The unenviable task of coming up with the solution to address the crisis rests mostly with the recently appointed chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who sooner rather than later will need to show that he is getting a grip on the cost of living crisis.

The Bank of England is predicting that the UK will experience a recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline – lasting 15 months, due to the impact of higher interest rates and soaring energy costs. 

A study by the BoE indicates UK companies are confident they can pass on rapid cost increases to consumers to protect margins. Although this offers some comfort to investors, it will be worrying for policymakers and the central bank as it indicates that higher inflation could become embedded – at a time when many households already face very high bills they will struggle to pay. 

Truss has stood firm on her decision not to provide handouts, but instead to lower taxes.

During her campaign to become prime minister, she promised to cancel the national insurance rise, scrap a planned increase in corporation tax and even potentially look to increase the marriage tax allowance.

But the challenge with lowering taxes is to do it without triggering further rises in inflation.

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says if Truss continues down the tax-cut road, she could do something with business rates too. However, if this does not offset the additional energy costs sufficiently, the government could consider a price cap, particularly for smaller and more vulnerable businesses.