Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 4:04 pm, 22nd February 2017

I encourage the right hon. Lady, for whom I normally have a lot of respect, not to make such partisan and, I suspect, inaccurate points, but to look at a booklet published by the LGA Labour group that gives 100 examples of the way in which Labour councils have innovated during the past few years. She may want to encourage some Conservative councillors that she knows to follow such examples.

The Secretary of State sent a letter to all his Conservative colleagues claiming that the concerns raised about business rates by businesses and hospitals were based, apparently, on a

“relentless campaign of distortions and half-truths”.

Leaving aside the question of whether it was right to release the figures just to Members of his own party, the irony is that, as was quickly exposed, the actual bills businesses will receive are likely to be 7% higher than the figures he produced. I gently suggest that the Secretary of State is in danger of getting a reputation for being sloppy in his use of figures.

Ministers have known about the business rates revaluation for a long time. Indeed, when announcing the delay, Sir Eric Pickles explained that it was to prevent “unexpected hikes” in business rates. Why did the current group of Ministers not think to analyse its consequences a little earlier? How can it possibly be fair that the overall business rates bill for Amazon, which has avoided paying much in corporation tax despite making huge profits, has gone down while family-run businesses that have existed on local high streets for decades face huge rises in their business rates bills? To accuse, as the Secretary of State effectively did, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and the British Retail Consortium of distortions and half-truths in their campaigning is a disgrace. He should apologise to them.