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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

I thank my hon. Friend for that interjection because it raises an important point. The obvious answer is to bring in professionals. However, to do that throughout the whole nation would be massively expensive. The alternative is to ensure that local government is much more equipped to deal with consultations from its own perspective. It should not see a consultation as simply asking the questions to get the answers that it wants. Furthermore, in a consultation where there has been a sizeable view in opposition to the council’s plans, it should not then override it as being meaningless and ignore it. There is no reason why it should. There is no law that says, “You have to take note of a given consultation.” There is also no sanction where people who do not have a vote are involved in that consultation, and therein lies the serious problem. The whole question of consultation therefore needs to be looked at as a separate issue in local government. However, consultation is not the answer to reassuring local businesses regarding projects where the projected amount that they will need to pay is less than 33 per cent. by the levy of the rate. The second reason why they need reassurance is that very fact in itself.

I wish I could tell the Committee that the projections of a given capital project made by local authorities were worth putting great faith in. The truth of the matter is that, over the length and breadth of the country, assessment of projects by Government, and especially by local government, have been way off target when the total is presented at the end of the project.

I shall cite a situation where a local authority says that the cost to be generated from a local rate of a given project is only 30 per cent. of that rate, so there is no need for the ballot. We then find, after the ballot is taken and the rate is levied, that the cost of VAT contribution turns out to be less, in total, than was projected by the local authority. The business rate contribution therefore becomes 40 per cent. of the total. Do the Government then give that money back? There is nothing in the Bill to say that they should. Again, the situation will simply be created where business feels that it has been conned.

Business sees itself as the milch cow for the Government and has done for some time. Not only are we going to see increasing congestion charges, much of which will  be paid by business, but workplace parking levies are being introduced as well. We are seeing charge after charge being levied on business, as though it can continue to provide a massive share of the money spent by Government at all levels.

The Bill will simply open up the fear that, create more suspicion that and add to the thought that the Government’s only concern for business, when it comes down to action rather than words, is that it is a milch cow and is there for local government to grab whatever it can in its interests, and not necessarily in the interests of business. The only way to convince business that it has a proper say in this matter is to give it a proper vote on every project that requires a supplementary business rate.