The British Chambers of Commerce has urged George Osborne to focus on youth employment, training and enterprise in his Budget, warning that the UK needs to avoid leaving a “lost generation” as the economy recovers.

Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen but still stands at 19.9 per cent of the workforce in that age group, compared with the overall 7.2 per cent rate.

The BCC calls for a £1,000 grant to businesses who hire long-term unemployed young people or a new apprentice, to create 100,000 new jobs in 2014. That would help to bridge the gap before the national insurance exemption for under-21s is introduced in 2015.

It calls for a two-year extension to the Apprenticeships Grant for Employers scheme to help create 80,000 additional apprenticeships. Demand from candidates has outstripped supply of apprenticeship vacancies by as much as 12 to one.

It also wants increased tax relief to encourage investment in young entrepreneurs, by raising the relief available through the Enterprise Investment Scheme from 30 per cent to 50 per cent for investors in businesses run by under-24s.

John Longworth, BCC director-general, said “Businesses across Britain tell me they want to hire young people. Yet many cannot afford to take the risk, especially at a time when other, more qualified applicants are coming forward for the job vacancies on offer.”

The Institute of Directors is calling for the 45p higher income tax rate to be scrapped, inheritance tax replaced by a capital-gains tax on death and business rates frozen until the 2017 re-rating.

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