Schedule 1 — Local retention of non-domestic rates

Part of Local Government Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 18th January 2012.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth and Dearne 4:15 pm, 18th January 2012

My hon. Friend is right. One of the strengths of this debate, as shown by contributions from all parts of the Committee, is exemplified by what he has just said. He has served as a councillor in north Kent and brings that experience and perspective to this debate. He now serves as the Member for Sefton Central, in the north-west of England, and also brings that perspective, reinforcing his point.

I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the future position of fire and rescue services. Can he provide me and other Members who are interested with details about his modelling and assessment of future revenue streams? Can he say how many and which fire authorities will be top-up authorities in future, and how many and which will be tariff authorities? There is concern among senior fire staff that if the incentive that this system is designed to deliver works as the Government say it will, the top priority for councils in the future will be those functions for which they are responsible that help to build business growth. However, those who serve in our fire and rescue services—services that do not directly contribute to economic and business growth—are concerned that a consequence of that will be that in future they will not get the priority for funding that the proper protection of their area may deserve because they do not contribute to business growth. Let me quote a chief fire officer who fears that that may—but not necessarily will—happen. He says:

“I am concerned that the proposed funding model could foster an antagonistic relationship between the fire authority and the local authorities if they begin to see us as a service which takes money from the business rates but does not actively participate in the business growth agenda.”

There is a strong case for fire and rescue services to be funded in future on the same basis as the police, with a very clear, consistent and comprehensive assessment of risk, need and resources built into the allocation of funding for fire services in England. What we start to see with the fire and rescue services, in common with the rest of local government, is concern about the uncertainty—what it means, what the funding is likely to be and how hard it makes it to plan sensibly for the future, particularly the ability to plan and manage within diminishing resources, which by and large is accepted. As another senior fire officer told me, stability is the most important factor. The Minister could do the

Committee and many in local government a favour by giving a clear and strong reassurance this afternoon about the stability and predictability of the system in future.

I am conscious that there are a number of other amendments in the group and that other right hon. and hon. Members want to speak to them, so let me return to my starting-point of amendment 46. It is a probing amendment, but it contains a proposal that all revenue raised from what is a tax on businesses designed to pay for local services should provide funds for local government—not for national priorities or services around which the cloak of local government can be loosely thrown at their funding streams and categorised as local government. Post 2015, this will build in a real localising ratchet. Post 2015, when the business rates take is projected to be bigger than the sums distributed to local councils, it will mean that where central Government want to use funds to cover non-council services, they will have to transfer the responsibility and devolve the power and control for those services to local government in order to use the business rates revenue to help fund them. Thus my proposal will mean Ministers truly putting their money where their mouths are. It will mean putting into reverse the post-war centralisation of government that this country has seen, and it will mean making the localist rhetoric a reality.