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Jamie Hardesty

Budget 2016: A roundup of North East aspirations and predictions

With George Osborne set to deliver his Budget Statement on wednesday, updating the nation on the government’s plans for the economy, we bring you a range of views from across the region. In a Bdaily Long Read we take a comprehensive look at the aspirations and predictions held by North East businesses.

So sit back, relax and enjoy reading what the North East has to say!

Digital / Tech economy

Mark Harbottle, SearchBI

Newcastle-based recruiter SearchBI, which recruits for BI and Agile business technologies, is urging the Chancellor to ring fence graduate funding in the forthcoming Budget to secure the IT skills the North East needs to sustain growth.

“Businesses are looking for next-generation BI and analytics’ technologies that help them tap into the power of their data. This in turn is driving the demand for people at all entry levels, including graduates.

“It’s critical that the Chancellor has policies to ensure that funding for what’s seen as ‘high cost’ university subjects such as technology and scientific courses does not drop below current levels in real terms.

“It’s vital that investment in these subjects remains sustainable as we see the role of digital jobs expand and develop to power organisations forward.

“This will secure the stream of highly educated and talented young people leaving university with the specialist technology skills and acumen growing businesses want.

“This will make sure that the North East economy continues to go from strength-to-strength as a national hot-bed for IT talent.”

Tax

George Hardey, Head of Tax at Waltons Clark Whitehill

“The Chancellor may bring forward plans to raise the threshold for the 40% rate of tax to £50,000, lifting hundreds of thousands out of paying higher rate tax. To counter this he may choose to cut the additional rate band, although some have predicted a cut in the rate, currently 45%, as he did back in 2012 when it was 50%. Increasing the personal allowance has been a favourite Budget sweetener for Mr Osborne for many years, so I would not be shocked to see this go up to £15,000 over a period of time.

“Although radical changes tax-relief on pensions have been shelved, for now, we cannot rule out changes to the existing system, some have suggested the lifetime limit will be reduced, possibly to £750,000. More changes to inheritance tax could be announced, on top of the additional detail on we’re expecting on how the main residence allowance on inheritance tax will work from 2017. As well the usual increases in various duties I am sure there will be a few surprises up the Chancellor’s sleeve.”

Gareth Thomas, Icon Plastics

Gareth Thomas, Managing Director of Icon Plastics, a precision plastic injection moulding firm that employs more than 40 people at Eaglescliffe, wants tax breaks for businesses to counter stagnation.

Gareth said: “The wellbeing of UK businesses needs to be at the forefront of the Budget with the emphasis on measures that allow UK companies to remain competitive on a global level.

“Uncertainty has been triggered by the EU referendum leading to a weaker pound, which is increasing overheads for companies that deal in Euros when sourcing raw materials from Europe.

“In addition, while not opposed to the principle of the living wage, this allied with increasing business rates and raw material costs, has the potential to jeopardise companies’ ability to compete against overseas rivals. Firms, unable to put up prices for fear of losing customers, are finding themselves financially squeezed.

“The message to the Chancellor needs to be that tax breaks are essential to prevent business growth from stagnating or even going into reverse.

“Investment in tackling inadequate transport links, both within the region and nationally, and ensuring that education and training strategies will lead to upcoming generations of workers being equipped with the skills and knowledge required by industry also are central to the country’s future economic prosperity.”

Amanda Vigar, Managing Partner at V&A Vigar &Co (Darlington) LLP

“Entrepreneurs and smaller enterprises are the backbone of the UK economy and there should be a range of tax reliefs to support the small business community.

“A bigger NIC employment allowance would encourage small businesses take on more employees, to fund this it could be removed from larger employers where the £3K saving is negligible. It would, therefore, reduce the burden of the huge, potentially job threatening, increase in the minimum wage and mean that employers could spend the same money overall, it would just be that more would go to their staff.

“A small company can struggle to financially cover for someone who is on extended sick leave. Not only does it have to fund Statutory Sick Pay, but often also pay for a temporary member of staff to ensure the work, necessary to keep the company’s operations on track, gets done. So a refund of at least some of the SSP, would give this size of business a much-needed financial boost. Bigger businesses often pay company sick pay and have a bank of “floating” staff to cover holiday and sick absences, small businesses usually can’t afford this extra fat.

“An extension of the business rates exemptions for small companies and a reduction in small company Corporation Tax would also help create a more sustainable economic base for SMEs.”

Mark Hetherington, Partner UNW LLP

“With the government’s current commitment to the ‘tax lock’ I don’t foresee any major changes to VAT in particular, but instead, as with recent budgets, I suspect any changes will be limited to specific areas focusing on perceived VAT avoidance. One example is the arrangements which certain insurance companies have implemented (using offshore companies) to take out the VAT costs on repairs to accident damaged cars.

“There may also be some changes focused on small businesses and reducing the VAT accounting/compliance burden, such as increasing the £150k turnover threshold for entry to the Flat Rate Scheme, which would be consistent with noises coming from HM Treasury and the Office for Tax Simplification about a desire to simplify the tax administration procedures for the small enterprise. The current threshold has been in force since 2003.

“One area which I do have some concern with is the very valuable 5% reduced rate of VAT which is applicable to certain residential property renovations/conversions. Any changes to this area of relief would be unwelcome news for the housing sector particularly when it is acknowledged there is a shortage of housing nationally.”

Charles Linaker, Partner UNW LLP

“I’d like to see the Chancellor do as little as possible with this Budget as there’s already enough going on dealing with the consequences of the Autumn Statement and last summer’s Budget. In particular, the fundamental change to the tax treatment of dividends and interest for 2016/17 will mean that a number of taxpayers will face substantial PAYE coding adjustments which will reduce their take-home pay.

“It looks as if there will not now be major changes to the taxation of pensions but we can probably nevertheless expect some more tinkering and he will need to clarify how the proposed increases to Stamp Duty Land Tax on residential property from April 2016 are going to be administered. I don’t think people have woken up to the fact that it’s not just buy to let properties which are affected by these.

“And with more revenue collected through Capital Gains Tax than Inheritance Tax in the last year, we may see the Chancellor giving greater focus to elements of CGT, such as Entrepreneur’s Relief, next Wednesday.”

Energy, exports and fuel

George Rafferty, NOF Energy

George Rafferty, Chief Executive of Durham-based national business development organisation, NOF Energy, is encouraging the Chancellor George Osborne to introduce new schemes in the forthcoming Budget to encourage further research and development into new technology-led solutions that can improve efficiencies in the offshore industries.

George Rafferty said: “The Budget presents an opportunity for the Chancellor to clearly demonstrate the Government’s support of the UK Oil & Gas industry and bolster the sector’s view that the North Sea can remain a viable and investable proposition. By introducing permanent tax breaks, as proposed by Oil & Gas UK, the Government can create a more stable environment for investment to allow the sector to maximise its potential.

“The Chancellor could also reward the efforts of the supply chain through targeted research and development tax incentives or grants, which will further aid the efforts of the industry to deliver more innovative and, therefore, efficient offshore operations.

“The industry has, over the past two years increased efficiencies by more than 40 percent and this, in part, can be attributed to supply chain innovation through the development of technology-led solutions. Increased investment in research and development for new technologies, supported by government incentives or grants for those serving the energy industry would go a long way towards driving greater levels of efficiency and productivity maintaining the sector’s important position in the UK economy.”

Brent Cheshire, DONG Energy’s UK Country Chairman

“DONG Energy is fully committed to playing a major role in the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy. The UK is our biggest offshore wind market and we are encouraged that the government recognises the potential benefits offshore wind brings to the UK. We are looking for a Budget that builds on last year’s government’s energy policy re-set which provided the sector with greater certainty around volume needed to underpin growth and promote long-term economic development. We would like to see stability in energy policy which will allow the UK to maintain its place at the forefront of the global offshore wind industry.

“DONG Energy also supports the continued development of the Northern Powerhouse, which is already becoming a key hub for the UK’s renewables sector. We are investing in coastal areas to create long-term, high-skills jobs and are working to grow the UK supply chain. Further investment in skills training will benefit both local communities and business, helping to regenerate areas where traditional industries have declined.”

Mike Matthews MBE, managing director of Nifco UK

“At the moment not enough SMEs are exploring potentially lucrative overseas markets, so I would implore the Government to ensure this Budget supports exports, especially as we head towards the EU Referendum in June.

“At the same time, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities need a real budget to help attract inward investment. Regional teams need to be equipped with the tools to carry the message overseas that the North East is open for business.

“Infrastructure investment must continue apace. The promised motorway link between the capital and Tyneside is a start, but we also need upgrades to the East Coast Main Line, more focus on connectivity between key cities that can help stimulate Northern Powerhouse growth, and more support for our ports and airports.

“I believe more must be invested in skills development to help companies future-proof workforces; negating the risk of potential skills shortages in growth areas. Our region’s vibrant manufacturing, tech, pharmaceutical and creative sectors should provide the bedrock of our economy for years to come and must be protected.

“We need a framework that encourages more businesses to engage with the world of education, to ensure we are producing young people with the skills and desire required to continue pushing the success of our region.

“If the Government genuinely wants to deliver on its pledge to create a Northern Powerhouse and empower businesses to drive economic growth, then it is vital that this Budget provides the right tools and encouragement to help us deliver.”

John Kearney, Finance Director at Nortech

“The North East has a substantial oil and gas sector supply chain and measures to help galvanise and support this network, which is vital to the region’s economy, would be welcome.

“Reducing the tax burden on North Sea oil and gas operators would release projects that could help ensure the long-term sustainability of and the development of innovative solutions within the supply chain.

“Sub-standard transport infrastructures are a barrier to the North East realising its full economic potential; therefore investment in the region’s road and rail networks should be a priority with any improvement schemes being implemented in the short rather than the long-term.”

Mohammed Bashir, founder of Boro Taxis

“The speculation about a 2p rise in the level of fuel duty is of concern to the wider transport sector, not only taxi operators, but also haulage and logistics firms that are responsible for keeping the goods and services of UK plc moving.

“There already is a disproportionate amount of tax levied on fuel with the UK having the highest fuel duty for diesel and the third highest for petrol in the EU and an increase would further distort this as well as affecting transport companies’ competitiveness.”

Property

Alastair Wilson, Tax Partner at Tait Walker

“The government have already been consulting on changes for business rates, Buy to Let investments and new rules for tax relief on interest costs for large corporate groups, so it will be interesting to see the outcome regarding this on Wednesday.

“In an ideal world, further announcements would include better localised tax incentives to attract businesses to the North East of England, an extension of the “re-occupation relief” for bringing unoccupied retail premesis back into use and a cohesive strategy for our region driven by the needs of the businesses in the area who drive the economy.

“A period of stability on pensions, with a commitment to a defined period in which there will be no changes to tax reliefs, tax free lump sums, salary sacrifice arrangements or any other of the existing mechanisms for administering corporate and individual pensions is also something we hope for.”

Colin Fyfe, chief executive of Darlington Building Society

“The Government has expressed a strong desire to increase home ownership and there is still a lot to be done to achieve this. The Chancellor should look at different proposals to support first time buyers and those looking to move up the property ladder, freeing up starter homes. There also needs to be incentives for the construction sector to boost the housing supply.

“I would also be delighted if the Chancellor implemented schemes to encourage saving from a very young age. It is so important to get children into the right mind set early on to reap benefits in the future when they are considering further education, buying a house or even many years ahead, retirement.”

Fran Mulhall, Regional Operations Manager at property specialists GFW Letting

“In next week’s Budget, the Chancellor will confirm April’s 3% hike in stamp duty tax and outline the legislation in greater detail. He will also outline changes to mortgage interest relief, where tax will be applied to turnover rather than profit, meaning many landlords on the basic rate of income tax will find themselves pushed into a higher rate of income tax despite their income not having increased.

“George Osborne could also potentially limit tax breaks further, putting further pressure on landlords. Research by Savills suggests that the UK will need one million new homes to rent by 2021. However, if the Government impose more legislation on small-scale landlords who are already increasingly stretched, it will no doubt deter landlords from investing in the new homes that are desperately needed to meet rising demand, further reducing supply.”

Steve Urwin, Managing Director Sales and Marketing at Newcastle Building Society

“Helping first-time buyers get onto the property ladder is a key priority for the Newcastle, and the Government’s Help To Buy scheme has had the desired positive impact in terms of assisting more of them to do just that.

“Although Newcastle Building Society is committed to offering 95% LTV loans to first time buyers, given the planned withdrawal of the scheme at the end of the year, we think that there is a risk that other providers may pull back. We would like to see the wider market momentum that has been built up maintained and are seeking clarity from the Chancellor on his plans for addressing this issue and the long term future of Help To Buy.

“Many parts of the North East are still affected by a shortage of affordable homes in communities where first time buyers have either grown up and want to stay, or to which they would like to move. We therefore support the Government’s starter homes initiative but are concerned that the proposed five year limit will only support the current generation of first time buyers and not future generations.”

Kevan Carrick, principal at JK Property Consultants and RICS spokesman for the North East region

“The latest imposition of the removal of tax allowances on expenditure and the increase in SDLT for buy to let will slow down demand from this sector.

“But RICS has suggested an innovative step that the Chancellor can take in the budget, and this is to offer tax relief to the owners of buy to let to sell to the sitting tenants. This will accelerate the change to home ownership, where it matters most to first time buyers and give those who can least afford to buy a home.”

Rob Charlton, CEO of Space Group

“The Chancellor is behind on his plan so will need to raise cash or reduce spending in order to catch up. Additional cuts to public spending will make things even tougher for the public sector, which has been struggling to make savings over the past two years.

“His plans on pensions will undoubtedly be very controversial and will cause outcry as it is such a huge change. He has already hit buy-to-let landlords and, as his priority is home ownership, he is likely to hit this area hard again.”

SMEs / Business costs

Steve Guest, managing director of Wilton based Techconsult UK

“As a small business with strong growth ambitions I would support the Federation of Small Businesses in their calls for George Osborne to simplify taxes and offer more support for start-ups in the budget statement.

“We currently have a situation where SMEs have exactly the same business pressures to contend with as large companies but with less resource and smaller budgets to bring in external expertise. The introduction of the National Living Wage next month, pension auto enrolment and changes to tax dividends all pose significant administrative and financial challenges to small businesses like mine, particularly when coupled with the prospect of quarterly tax returns. I believe that the combination of these pressures stifles confidence among business owners and this in turn slows economic growth.

“I would like to see a more simplified tax system for SMEs, one which reduces the layers of red tape, as this will help encourage small firms to continue to invest and create jobs; I am however doubtful that we will see anything that helps address these issues in the Chancellor’s forthcoming statement.”

Stephen Paul, Owner of Valued Accountancy

“It was re-assuring when Chancellor George Osborne stated that he would back small business when he spoke at the Federation of Small Businesses Policy Conference last month, however we remain optimistic.

“For many of our clients, small businesses are looking for a vote of confidence ahead of the Spring Budget Statement, however they are bracing themselves for a turbulent ride. With the impact of global pressure and domestic policy decisions, time and time again, many of our clients are concerned about new tax and regulatory changes that may impact on their businesses.

“Like many small businesses, their main focus is investment, growth and creating jobs but in reality, they are worrying about external pressures such as the impact of business rates and over complicated tax systems.

“Another key area that small business owners are keeping an eye on will be changes to the National Living Wage and the impact this may have on the bottom line. We have been working with our clients advising and preparing in advance of the forthcoming changes which will come into effect in April.”

Michael Grayson is a Director at Solutions Recruitment

“The time has come for the Chancellor to put his money where his mouth is and acknowledge the vital role small to medium sized businesses play in the health of our economy. Rather than stifling us I want to see the burden reduced so we can compete more effectively.

“I want to see rising growth figures, a commitment to reducing the deficit, further public sector cuts, and a fall in the higher tax band. An optimistic hope, but the latter would certainly help small to medium-sized business owners wanting to invest in and grow their companies.

“I would also like to see George relaxing some of the employment rules: a reduction in National Insurance contributions or possibly a tax saving on new employees. We also need a resolution to the temporary workers as contractors’ legislation and an approved travel and expenses scheme.

“The current system is detrimental to the UK economy and inconsistent with the modern way of working.

“What don’t I want to see? Rises in the living or national minimum wages; additional international aid spending; cuts to private sector pension tax savings; and an extension of the period before a surplus is gained.

“Business needs the support of the Government. The Chancellor maintains he is sympathetic to our plight, yet here we are within weeks of a raft of new and expensive tax and employment rules coming into force that will inevitably curb investment, job creation and stall the economic growth so desperately needed.

“If he truly believes we are the backbone of the economy, then that needs to be reflected in the Budget.”

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive at NEL Fund Managers

“The imminent introduction of the new National Living Wage is going to leave small businesses facing additional costs that will be a struggle for many of them to absorb, and the future roll out of Workplace Pensions is going to add even more to them.

“When such a huge emphasis is placed on creating new jobs in what is still a challenging economic climate, the costs that smaller businesses face in doing this can’t be overlooked, and we’d like to see supportive measures introduced that recognise and reward employers who create employment opportunities, especially for younger people, to help secure a more balanced economic position for growing SMEs.

“We’d also like to see some further clarity around energy policy, as the costs resulting from this impact directly on every North East business, and to see further measures to support the struggling oil and gas sector, which holds an important position in our regional economy.”

Liz Mayes, North East Region Director at manufacturers’ organisation EEF

“As part of our budget submission we’re warning of the potentially damaging consequences of a raft of increasing business costs. We’re urging the Chancellor to signal to business in the forthcoming Budget that they will not be the ‘thin end of an ever-thickening wedge’.

“Recent policy announcements have come at a time when industry is facing significant global headwinds. Almost four in ten manufacturers (36%) identify rising business costs as a key risk this year. At the same time, the proportion of companies viewing the UK as a competitive place to do business has fallen from 70% in 2015 to 56% this year.

“Industry’s concerns range from the introduction of the new apprenticeship levy to the future cost and complexity of energy-related taxes. We want to see the Chancellor retain the current tax treatment of employment pension contributions and avoid saddling employers with a plethora of direct and unintended penalties for their continued support of workplace pensions. Importantly, to help offset the current crisis in the steel sector, we’re calling on the Chancellor to remove plant and machinery from the calculation of business rates.

“In isolation individual policy decisions may not be significant, but when viewed together they are adding significant cost at a time when business conditions are volatile to say the least.

“With investment intentions looking more fragile, the Chancellor should plot a course that avoids piling more costs on employers and one which gives manufacturers the certainty to invest for the future.”

Apprenticeships / Education

Darren Hankey, Hartlepool College of Further Education

Darren Hankey, Principal at Hartlepool College of Further Education, one of the largest providers of apprenticeships in the North East which is ranked in the top 10 performers in the country for apprentice opportunities.

“Tony Blair once said ‘education, education, education’ and as the Principal of Hartlepool College of FE, one of the leading providers of apprenticeships for young people in the North East, I would say what is needed now is ‘clarity, clarity, clarity’ especially in terms of the direction of travel for apprenticeships.

“Wholesale change is planned for these qualifications from delivery, content, assessment and, most importantly, funding.

“Even though broad details are available related to those who will pay the levy and at what rate; less information is available for: how existing standards will be funded, how SMEs who don’t pay the levy will be motivated to engage and what happens if the money raised by the levy runs out.

“Furthermore, lack of clarity exists in relation to how the digital voucher scheme will work. Most governments have a poor track record of implementing large IT projects, and what assurances and safeguards can the Chancellor give to ensure those mistakes aren’t repeated? I will be watching the Budget with interest to see if this is discussed.”

Kelly Lee, managing director of KF Training

Peterlee-based KF Training said the Chancellor needed to provide more detail on funding for apprenticeships, believing that this would significantly boost uptake of this form of training.

Kelly Lee, managing director of KF Training, said: “The upcoming Budget is an ideal platform for the Chancellor to clarify how training for apprentices aged 16 to 18 will be funded. Will there be an incentive payment for employers that take on young apprentices of this age?

“Also, there has been plenty of talk about a possible incentive payment for employers for successful completion of an apprenticeship, although the Government has remained silent on this issue. By confirming this in his Budget statement, the Chancellor would provide an extra incentive for employers of all sizes to take on an apprentice.

“Extra funding for apprenticeships would help businesses to strengthen key supply chains across the region and develop the next generation of industry talent. Highly skilled, agile supply chains will drive the growth of the regional economy and enable the North East to compete on the national and international stage.”

John Chance, Redcar & Cleveland College acting principal

“The apprenticeships levy is generally a good idea as long as it is administered correctly. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty over how it will work in practice.

“It is unclear how ministers are going to monitor the quality of this training. The Government has committed to creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 and there is a concern that efforts will be focused on hitting this target rather than delivering the high-quality apprenticeships desired by employers.

“Also, how do employers access the £15,000 allowance and how will funding be allocated to the North East under the new devolution deal?

“The Chancellor needs to provide clarity on these issues if he is to get sufficient buy-in from employers. Uncertainty could create an unwanted situation where companies simply side-step the levy by rebadging other training programmes as apprenticeships. This might deliver the three million target desired by Government but won’t address key skills needs in this region.

“If these issues are ironed out, the levy could potentially act as an important catalyst to boost uptake of apprenticeships, which would help to tackle skills shortages and boost the growth of North East businesses.”

Northern Powerhouse

Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of Teesside-based Materials Processing Institute

“Innovation is core to the sustainability and growth of the UK economy. The Government has proposed replacing research grants to industry with loans, which could impact on the country’s ability to innovate. I would like to see clarity about how future support will be implemented as the current uncertainty, including whether the awarding body Innovate UK will be absorbed into research councils, is causing concern within the business sector.

“The Materials Processing Institute is one of the bodies negotiating to become an integral part of a Materials Catapult network of technology and innovation centres, designed to boost the UK’s business capabilities. The Budget would be the ideal platform for the Chancellor to announce ongoing Government commitment to this network.

“As an organisation at the heart of the region, we are very excited by the prospect of the Northern Powerhouse. While some compelling initiatives, such as Transport for the North, are already in place, further tangible aspects of the Northern Powerhouse need to start to take shape to help the region play to its strengths.”

Jonathan Willett, a Director at Henderson Insurance Brokers Teesside office

“With having to driving a lot of miles to meet customers and accumulating knowledge through having a substantial number of clients with company car fleets and in the haulage industry means that further investment in road infrastructure would be top of my Budget wish list.

“Transport links are vital to helping grow the economy by making it faster and easier for employers, workers and people in general to journey across the region and further afield.

“Being held-up in traffic jams, due to congested road networks, costs businesses valuable time and money.

“Improved transport links with the rest of the UK, as well as within the North East itself, would help the region to achieve its economic potential.”

Sean Bullick, CEO, NE1 Business Improvement District

“We’re not asking George Osborne to hand us more money. We’re asking him to give us the financial freedom to raise and spend our own funds as a city centre. London already has this freedom, so why shouldn’t Newcastle and the rest of the country?

“Currently, only business tenants can invest in the NE1 Business Improvement District. We’re urging the Chancellor to give us the same power the Capital already has to create a Property Owner BID in Newcastle. This would enable us to double the amount we have to spend on improvements and initiatives to enhance the cityscape, increase footfall and drive the region’s economy forward. In particular, it would give us the opportunity to focus on longer-term improvements in the city centre.

“Balancing the books of UK PLC may be tough, but this is an easy economic win. There’s no outlay for the Government. Property Owner BIDs have the ability to create a virtuous economic circle. Business rates are based on rental values, which should rise with investment and improvements. Local authorities will, by 2020, retain all business rates, meaning they should, in turn, have more money to invest in our city centre. It’s a win-win scenario, which does not require any new legislation or Treasury funding; just the go-ahead from the Government.”

Care

Andrew Simpson, Ensure Inheritance

A Seaham solicitor is calling on the Chancellor to end the worry about the unlimited cost of old age care by finally introducing his long promised and much delayed cap on personal care fees in the Budget.

Andrew Simpson, Lead Panel Solicitor with Seaham-based legal and financial planning specialist Ensure Inheritance, says that introducing a cap on costs for personal care would allow people to make plans for their long term care and reduce the widely held fear of being forced to sell the family home to pay for it.

He says: “A cap of £72,000 for personal care costs was to have been introduced this April (2016), but has been delayed until at least 2020. I would like to see the Chancellor stick to his earlier promise and bring in the care fees cap next month.

“With current legislation demanding that anyone owning assets valued in excess of £23,250 is required to make a 100% contribution towards the cost of their care, it’s no wonder that this a major concern for older people.

“Although this legislation also prevents people from deliberately moving their assets in order to avoid paying care fees, it is possible to protect the family home by using a Wealth Preservation Trust, provided the owner is in relatively good health and not presently intending going into long term care, and has genuine concerns about who will benefit from their assets.”

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