The proposal to return business rates to local government has a lot of merit, but it should not be considered in isolation. If we are to look at how local government is financed, we must do so in the round, rather than through a single issue, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands and agrees. However, I take on board his point about the return of the business rate to local government.
One major thing that we have done over the past few years is introduce the certainty of three years' funding, ensuring that local government is able to forward plan and develop strategic responsibilities. That has been a major element in the improved efficiency of all local authorities. The National Audit Office's figures show that almost every single local authority throughout the country, irrespective of party control, is more efficient and more effective than it was in 1997 at delivering its services. A major aspect of that has been the ability to plan three years on three years, rather than having to go hand to mouth as we did in the past. I do not know where the Opposition stand on that process, but it would be interesting to hear an indication-something that we could hang on to. Will they continue or abandon the three-year process?
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