BUSINESS leaders in Oxfordshire say measures in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement are a step in the right direction.

But for some they do not go far enough.

The Chancellor unveiled a series of measures including capping business rates at two per cent and offering a 50 per cent discount for businesses moving into empty premises; scrapping national insurance contributions for employers with workers under 21; and freezing the planned two per cent increase in fuel duties.

But he also confirmed the state pension age would rise to 68 in the mid 2030s and 69 in the late 2040s. He warned job seekers aged 18 to 21 without basic maths or English would be required to train in these skills or lose their benefits.

Graham Jones, spokesman for Oxford retailers group ROX, said: “We applaud the 50 per cent rates discount for those moving into empty shops and welcome the two per cent general cap, but the Chancellor has got to start thinking outside the box.

“Large online retailers are paying far lower rates because they don’t have a high street location and they are snapping up so much business.

“It is time to shift some of the rates burden to the online companies and create more of a level playing field.”

Stuart Roper, chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The cap on rates is a step in the right direction and the 50 per cent discount for those occupying empty premises is good as all Oxfordshire’s towns have empty shops.”

He also welcomed the announcements that rail fares will increase by 3.1 per cent in January instead of the planned 4.1 per cent along with the fuel duty freeze.

He said: “That is good news for commuters and will also mean goods transported by road will not increase in price as a result of higher fuel bills.”

But Mr Roper, 59, said he worried about friends in manual trades who may be forced to work until their late 60s before being able to pick up the state pension.

He added: “It is an issue people are going to have to plan for in a different way.

“There is a difference between having an active retirement and working under a sink as a plumber.”

Bob Bradley, president of the Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said the best part of the Chancellor’s statement was the scrapping of National Insurance contributions for employers.

He added: “We can’t afford to let young people go without a job for five years.

“This is encouraging employers to take them on which will be critical in the long-term.”

Chesterton grandmother Rachael Scott Hunter, 67, said: “I fell into the category of people who got a pension at 60 and I am appalled that people who want to give work up early will not be able to do so now.”

Ms Scott Hunter, who is married to Ian and lives at home with disabled daughter Alexandra, 41, added: “I am against any cuts to disabled people, which I think is shocking.”