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Clause 1

Part of Business Rate Supplements Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 11:15 am, 27th January 2009

No—quite the opposite. The strength of the case and the extent to which it is likely to be carried in the decisions that the Government or this House take rest on how well it is put, not simply on how strongly it is put. It is as true in this field as in any other that organisations sometimes do not best serve their cause by overstating the concerns and anxieties that are at stake. Nevertheless, in framing this Bill we have taken the concerns of business seriously.

One of the safeguards in the Bill, which we will come on to in more detail, is the requirement for any local authority, if the BRS is expected to contribute more than a third of the total proportion of any project cost, to be subject to a ballot. That is despite equally strong arguments from the all-party Conservative-led Local Government Association that there should be no requirement for a ballot, and that any ballot should be a decision for the local authority itself, as appropriate. The all-party Select Committee also takes a view that is different from ours. It does not seek the requirement to have a ballot where a project’s cost amounts to more than a third from BRS.

The evidence sessions bore this out. On the one hand, we had the CBI saying that we should have ballots in every case, whatever the contribution from the BRS. The LGA argued that ballots are unnecessary and should not take place unless the local authority decided it was appropriate. The most interesting, and overall perhaps the most balanced, evidence came from the director general of the BCC. He was clear with us in recognising the constructive relations that generally exist between local authorities, business organisations and the business community now. He also recognised the concerns that businesses have about the prospect of legislation enabling a BRS.

However, the director general ended by confirming to the Committee, in response to questions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, that the BCC accepted the third threshold proposed in the Bill. That threshold is designed to recognise that business should not have a blanket veto on any business rate supplement as a contribution to a major project for an area. However, it is also designed that, where a business is likely to do more of the heavy lifting in the financing of a project, it should have that reassurance and extra opportunity to vote on its introduction.