SMALL businesses have been offered help with the cost of apprenticeships and the prospect of action on late payment in the chancellor’s spring statement.

But Philip Hammond has been accused of making the statement a “non-event”, and “re-announcing old news”.

The spring statement yesterday saw the chancellor announce upgraded growth projections, as well as forecasts of falls in national debt over the next few years.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility also warned the chancellor was likely to miss his target of returning the public finances to balance by the middle of the next decade.

Mr Hammond announced £80million to support small firms looking to take on apprentices, following criticism of the apprenticeship levy which came into force last year.

He said there would be a review of how to eliminate the “scourge” of late payment and of how to help the least productive businesses catch up with the most productive.

A review of business rates is to be brought forward to 2021, with three-yearly reviews after that.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The chancellor has sent a clear message to UK boardrooms today by committing to ending the late payment crisis that destroys 50,000 businesses a year.”

Dorset accountants and financial advisers Ward Goodman said the statement was something of a “non-event”.

Its tax consultant Rose Duly said: “There’s been a lot of re-announcing of old news, including reiteration of the increased spend on research and development, the increased national minimum wage and increased personal allowance for tax.

“We heard a lot of statistics being reeled off, with the government pleased to announce debt is falling and forecasts apparently being revised upwards. Mr Hammond was pleased to predict an expected return of the real wage growth from later this year, meaning earnings could rise faster than inflation, which if true, would be good news for all. However, the opposition in turn reminded us that recent UK growth has been slower than the rest of the EU, and that real wages have been falling for a long time, so really, it’s a case of ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ with statistics.”

There were “no significant spending announcements”, only a promise of a review in 2019 to decide on public spending in 2020, she said.

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), said: “Businesses in Dorset will have welcomed the chancellor’s upbeat tone and the revised growth forecasts.

“Measures to addresses skills training, late payments and productivity along with investment in transport, high speed broadband, innovation and apprenticeships were also signs that the chancellor is listening to business.

“However, it is important that we explore these opportunities and how we can access any funding to benefit Dorset – or lobby government if we are not receiving our fair share.”

Other announcements included a consultation on the role of cash in the new economy, including the possibility of withdrawing the 1p and 2p coins and £50 note.

And the government is consulting on what role online marketplaces should play in making sure sellers pay the right tax.