Schedule 1

Business Rate Supplements Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 27th January 2009.

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Information to be included in a prospectus for a BRS

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I beg to move amendment 35, in schedule 1, page 22, line 16, at end insert—

‘11A A description of the arrangement by which persons paying the BRS shall be represented upon the governing body of any organisation set up for the purpose of delivering the objectives of the BRS, or if, such organisation is not to be set up, how such persons are to be involved in the oversight of the delivery of those objectives.’.

We come to another measure about which concerns were raised by the witnesses from the business community who gave oral and written evidence. We have sought to strengthen the involvement of business, something that the Ministers have said they desire. I hope that we can broach it in a constructive spirit.

In response to an earlier question, the Minister said he hoped that a dialogue would go on in the drawing up of the BRS schemes. I do not dispute it; I also hope that that is the case, but we think that it needs to go a stage further. As well as dialogue beforehand, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue about the implementation and outworking of the scheme. If businesses are contributing, in varying degrees, it is important that they do not lose control once something is signed off and is up and running. I suspect that it will be in everyone’s interests to have ongoing business involvement.

The Government’s proposals talk in terms of the national project panel in the drawing-up and creation phase. Obviously, it is not practical to have that in the implementation phase, but I hope that it might be possible to ensure that there is business involvement in implementation, as businesses have skills and experience that they could bring to bear to ensure that the BRS is rolled out in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. They would then have a stake in it, and would be able to  supplement the skills that local authority and other public bodies have in that regard, thereby making for collaboration.

In some cases, the local authority will propose to deliver the scheme itself, but in others it might be necessary to set up a special purpose vehicle to deliver the scheme, particularly if there is an infrastructure project. Such a vehicle might have a board of directors or some other governing body; its nature could vary according to the legal status of the organisation set up to deliver the purpose, or the SPV. We seek a mechanism whereby business would be represented on and involved in that governing body, or controlling mind, in relation to delivery as well as planning. It seems logical to achieve the sort of partnership and collaboration that I accept Ministers want. That is the background.

We hope that the amendment would be a constructive addition to the Bill. It would not only reinforce business confidence, but bring practical benefits to both business and the broader community, including council tax payers, by ensuring that there was efficient outturn for the project, which will have been given the go-ahead.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am sympathetic to what is set out in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. We have heard at some length how successful the BIDs model has been, around the country, at delivering extra investment in a very localised area. In addition to the ballot issue, which we have addressed, part of that model concerns the ongoing engagement and involvement of all the funding partners in delivering the scheme, so that they have confidence that it is being delivered in accordance with what was originally set out, and so that any slight variations, or reports on how things are proceeding, are part of engagement in line with previous consultation.

I am sympathetic to the idea that a similar case could be made for having greater involvement in the delivery of a project that a BRS would fund. We have previously debated, or at least discussed, the fact that we do not have the tradition of having a core, uniform business rate for local authorities, but this issue is over and above that. Business is being asked to contribute, and it is important to have some reassurance that business will be heard and that we will get the benefit of business experience. In delivering projects of this kind, it would undoubtedly be beneficial if local businesses that are strongly engaged with economic activity had such opportunities.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a concept of natural democratic justice in the proposal, which would involve and use the expertise of local business, thereby gaining commitment? Given that local business is being required to make an economic contribution, surely it should have a say in the running of the project and how it proceeds.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend has made her point very well. Her experience of business is no doubt reflected in her contribution.

The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.