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Clause 1

Part of Business Rate Supplements Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 10:45 am, 27th January 2009

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I accept his point that, inevitably, unless return to the ‘50s system of a separate business vote, which no party  is proposing, that arrangement is imperfect. However, in a large area of London, there was the ability for a great number of Londoners, including a number of business rate payers—not all, of course, because some live outside the boundary—to have a say.

In addition, because of how the Crossrail process has been gone through—by the previous Mayor and the current on, as well as the candidate for the Liberal Democratic party and others—there has been a genuine attempt at dialogue and engagement across the political parties and a broad political consensus within London. That was reflected in support for the project before the scheme was brought forward by the business community—London First, the London branch of the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI supported a BRS as part of the funding package. They were not saying that it was an ideal measure, but in the case of Crossrail, they said that they were prepared to chip in and that that was a mechanism through which they could move the project forward. That is a pragmatic and sensible enough view, but it does not mean that that approach is appropriate anywhere else in the country.

What amused me in part of the Under-Secretary’s comment is that he seemed to present my hon. Friends and I as people who are denying the rest of the country a great opportunity. I suggest that what we are seeking to do is to save the rest of the country a potentially great burden. The Government are trying, through characteristic sleight of hand, to take the consensus and agreement that a BRS scheme is an appropriate mechanism for Crossrail and use it as a stealth device to increase tax burdens elsewhere in the country, where we know from the LGA there is no demand. There is a demand in London—the Mayor of London submitted evidence saying why that was so, as did London business. There is no such evidence elsewhere.