Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 22nd February 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 4:31 pm, 22nd February 2017

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We must realise that small businesses are defined in different ways. There is a profound difference between the Government’s definition of a small business, which is any business that employs fewer than 250 people, and the many microbusinesses that so many of us have in our constituencies. We should not underestimate the benefit that many of them have had from the raising of the threshold to £12,000 a year, which has been a real boost. Of course, the difficulty is that many microbusinesses, which may employ five people or fewer, still face the burden of rates. Anything that the Government can do to improve their situation will be hugely welcome.

We do not know all the details of the revaluation yet because it will not be officially announced until March, but we know that the multiplier will be reduced and my office has been asking small businesses about the effect. While some businesses will undoubtedly benefit, my concern about the situation in Broxtowe is that some pubs may face a quite unbearable rates rise. We do not have all the details of the situation yet, but I know that the Secretary of State will want to know them and I will not hesitate to give them to him. We know the value of pubs. They are important to our communities, but they are also important to our economy. They are great small businesses.

There are also concerns that rates will be reduced for some supermarkets while other businesses that employ maybe five to 10 people will find that their rates increase. In Broxtowe, the change will be neutral across the board—not the 0.7% change in the letter from the Secretary of State and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—but with inequities in who will have to pay more and who will have to pay less. For example, we think that some businesses in Broxtowe’s three retail parks may pay less. There is often a battle between the retail park and the high street, and we think that some high street businesses may pay more than businesses in retail parks. Retail parks have big businesses—Ikea, Boots and Mamas & Papas, for example. I am not saying that they can necessarily afford an increase in rates, but they can probably soak it up in a way that a small independent business cannot. I will provide the Secretary of State with any details as they come out, and I know that he will take them on board.

I have no doubt that the Government absolutely understand the real strains in our social care system. I welcome all that has been done, but much more needs to be done. I reject the use of the word “crisis”, which is horribly overused. Our services are strained, but they are not in a crisis. In Nottinghamshire, the Conservatives have made it clear that if we are successful in May and again gain control of the county council, we will use the good provisions that the Secretary of State has put in place to allow us to raise the additional 3% through the precept. We will do that to ensure that we can raise as much money for social care as possible. However, I gravely fear that the reality is that the Government need to put more taxpayer money into the system.

I spoke to the chief executive of Nottinghamshire County Council on Friday, and such is the strain, for all sorts of reasons—I do not have time to go into those reasons, and this is not the place in any event—that Nottinghamshire is unable to offer homes to unaccompanied child refugees because of the extraordinary cost required to ensure that they are kept safe. It is important that such children get the right services and placements, and so on. At the moment, Nottinghamshire does not have the resources needed to do the right thing by those unaccompanied children. As I said at the beginning, we have to bear in mind the real strains being put on our local authorities and our outstanding councillors.

Finally, I have spoken about unitary authorities, and I urge the Secretary of State to consider being even braver, to take the bull by the horns and say to councils, “Now is the time. You must become unitary.” That is the way forward for many councils in order to save money and, most importantly, improve services.