With pledges to ‘level up’ the UK, new chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget has been keenly anticipated as he seeks to draw a line under a decade of austerity.

However, the emphasis is changing as it is now being billed as the ‘coronavirus’ budget – with a package of measures expected to be unveiled to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on business and the economy.

Here, three influential figures in the North East business community outline what they wish to see contained in the chancellor’s red box ahead of this afternoon’s (March 11) budget.

George Rafferty, chief executive of NOF, the Durham-based UK business development organisation for the energy sector, said: “If the government is serious about its environmental ambitions it needs to implement more incentives to support the development of new technologies that will encourage more rapid energy transition.

“The UK energy industry contains some highly innovative companies that are able, with the right support, to increase the pace of the implementation of such things as hydrogen and Carbon Capture Storage within the energy mix.

“This can be supported by diversification incentives to enable a greater proportion of the supply chain to transfer their skills, products and services into renewable energy.”

Nic Smith, co-founder and managing director of Gateshead-based Commercial Maintenance Services (UK) Ltd, said: “I’d like to see the Chancellor reform rather than scrap entrepreneurs’ relief. This tax relief is an important incentive which rewards entrepreneurs for investing their capital in growing businesses that create jobs and generate prosperity. This is simply not the moment to abolish it.

“The government also needs to set out how it plans to mitigate the effects of coronavirus and what support it will offer those business that will be hardest-hit by any resulting disruption.

“I’d also like to see measures introduced to support the Renewable Heat Incentive, which promotes the adoption of renewable heat technologies among householders, communities and businesses, together with any incentives that will encourage the rapid expansion of the UK’s network of electric vehicle charging points.”

Adrian Waddell, chief executive of NE1 Limited, Newcastle’s business improvement district, said: “In the week before the Budget the much-publicised issues facing the nation’s high streets brings into sharp focus that the chancellor has to make radical changes to support the retail sector and create a level playing field between online and bricks and mortar retailers.

“Abolishing business rates for retailers and replacing this with a straightforward sales tax will immediately bring equality to the sector. Currently bricks and mortar retailers generate around five percent of GDP but contribute a huge 25 percent of UK business rates. This imbalance has to be addressed by getting online operators to pay their fair share, while delivering a significant boost for the retailers in our towns and cities.”