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Clause 1

Part of Business Rate Supplements Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South 11:00 am, 27th January 2009

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Atkinson.

I do not want to enter the private grief of Crossrail as regards London’s payment for it, but outside London many people are dubious about the scheme. They fear that it will cost about £25 billion, perhaps more, but do not see it helping them in any way. They feel that that amount of money could be much better used on infrastructure elsewhere.

Having got my bit about Crossrail out of the way, let me explain why a ballot of businesses is vital if we want acceptance of the concept from the business community. I need not tell the Minister about the need to reassure business, because the evidence is plainly in front of him, from almost every business organisation in the country. From my own anecdotal evidence, local business is frightened to death of giving government—particularly local government, which has not proved to be the most efficient instrument in this country for moving our society forward—the ability to raise even more money from the community, particularly the business sector and at a time when Government support for local authorities has been reduced over the years in percentage terms.

Let me tell the Committee why the business community is so concerned. That concern surrounds two major areas. The first concern arises from the appalling episodes and examples of consultation undertaken by local government the length and breadth of the country. We have one at the moment in Northamptonshire, where the portfolio holder responsible for the consultation has herself said that it has not been well organised. In fact, I have not seen one local government consultation that has been well organised.

The thrust of the Government argument seems to suggest that it is okay not to hold a ballot, if less than 33 per cent. of the total cost is to be borne by business, because there will be consultation. I would like the Minister to present evidence of quality consultation in local government. I would like him to tell me how many people with an expert knowledge of the art of consultation are employed by local government. I would like him to show me where consultation has been accepted by the local populace as being effective and meaningful, because in my experience the opposite is true.

Having worked in the business of marketing and public relations for most of my adult life, I look at the consultations emanating from local government in my  part of the world with horror—horror at the amateurish nature of the whole process every time. The Minister needs to reassure us as to why he thinks there will be this massive step change in the quality of local government consultation in order to pursue his argument that, in the context of projects involving a contribution of below 33 per cent. from business, such consultation will allay those fears. I assure him that it certainly will not.