Committee (3rd Day)

Part of Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 29th June 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 3:30 pm, 29th June 2015

My Lords, our intention is to devolve far-reaching powers where strong, accountable and transparent governance, delivery and capability can be demonstrated. We are open to discussing proposals from all places, including towns and counties, where there are clear lines of accountability and decision-makers can properly be held to account. Amendments 43 and 44 suggest giving mayoral combined authorities access to a wide range of important taxes and charges. We have always said that we are interested in hearing proposals from authorities, and that nothing is off the table. We have also included provisions in the Bill for a council tax precept to meet the costs of functions undertaken by the mayor. This will be subject to the normal referendum principles as part of the council tax for the area, ensuring that not only will the mayoral combined authority be properly resourced but local council taxpayers will be protected.

Moreover, the Bill will mean that, in future, mayoral combined authorities will become major precepting authorities for the purposes of the local government finance regime. This means that through the existing powers that govern the rates retention scheme, to which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, referred, we will already be able to give mayoral combined authorities their own share of local rates income and ensure that they benefit from local growth. We do not need powers to put in place multi-year settlements for authorities; we can already do this administratively, as part of the wider local government finance settlement. Of course, any decision to make use of the existing powers to extend the rates retention scheme or put in place multi-year settlements would be taken alongside part of the wider transfer of powers and functions to mayoral combined authorities.

To devolve the wider basket of taxes referred to in Amendment 43, however, goes further and would represent a significant change to the existing tax landscape, with potentially significant legal, economic and fiscal implications. The other taxes mentioned play an important part in reducing the deficit and restoring the nation’s finances to a more secure footing, so it would not be right to include in the Bill powers to direct these taxes to mayoral combined authorities.

Additionally, such far-reaching powers would have potential consequences not just for the combined authorities but for other authorities, large and small businesses, and taxpayers up and down the country. Given the importance and fiscal character of such matters, we would need to consider whether any proposals would receive the correct level of scrutiny if provided through secondary legislation. I am not convinced, therefore, that it would be appropriate for these matters to be the subject of powers in the Bill or considered outside the Government’s normal fiscal and budget-planning cycle. Nevertheless, we are open to proposals for the transfer of resources as well as power and would give detailed consideration to any scheme that strikes the right balance between encouraging growth and protecting taxpayers.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about any proposals to remove central Government influence on local fees and charges. It would depend on individual deals. The noble Lord also asked about brigading national budgets. I cannot read the writing—