Commencement and short title

Local Government Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir David. The clause makes standard provision in relation to the commencement of provisions in the Bill, as I explained in relation to amendments 52 and 54 before we broke. Subsection (1) sets out that the provisions relating to the telecommunications relief guidance about notices relating to non-domestic rates and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs expenditure for digital services will come into force on Royal Assent. Powers to make regulations in the Bill as well as the final standard provisions of the Bill will also come into force on Royal Assent.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

One of the things that is missing from the Bill is any reference to local enterprise partnerships. The Minister may remember that before the former Chancellor, Mr Osborne, was sacked for incompetence by the new Prime Minister, he made reference to 100% business rate devolution and, crucially, infrastructure supplements that require the consent or support of local enterprise partnerships, but there has been no mention of local enterprise partnerships in any of the clauses, or indeed in the Minister’s speeches. Will he set out why there appears to be a change in the involvement of LEPs?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I suppose it would have been more pertinent to our earlier deliberations in considering the Bill when we were dealing directly with supplements that can be charged by directly elected Mayors and the consultation process that will be gone through with businesses. I do not want to dwell on that point, other than to say that we clearly set out how the matter will be considered. We consulted widely with the business community, including local enterprise partnerships. That is why we came to the conclusion and took the view that we did on how Mayors will have to consult with business if they wish to implement a business rate supplement for infrastructure.

In my response to amendments 52 and 54, I set out the reasons why the Bill commencement regulations should not be delayed until 2019. We have had several discussions on delegated powers. As I have explained, the Bill provides a framework to establish a new business rates retention system. Our approach allows us to continue to work with local government over coming months and years on the details of the reforms, which councils will welcome.

In line with the approach taken in the previous local government finance legislation, the Bill necessarily contains a number of delegated powers, as set out in the delegated powers memorandum, which describes each power’s purpose, justification and proposed procedure. The Bill takes a similar number of powers to the previous legislation. As I said at our previous sitting, the majority of those powers amend or replicate existing legislation, predominantly the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and the Business Rate Supplements Act 2009.

Where replicating existing powers, the Bill retains the procedure for each from previous legislation. Where the Bill creates new powers, the majority will provide for parliamentary procedure but, as is normal for this type of legislation, the Bill contains new powers that do not have a parliamentary procedure, such as the commencement regulations under this clause.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

On the commencement proceedings, the Minister might remember that I asked specifically when he intends the abolition of the local government finance statement to kick in. Does he see tomorrow’s as the last such statement, or will there be another one for 2018-19? What is the commencement date for that provision?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman has listened intently to every word I have said in this Committee, so he knows that earlier in our deliberations I confirmed to him that this year’s local government finance settlement will not be the last settlement of its type. The local government finance settlement process will continue until the new policy is implemented in 2019-20. Regulations will therefore have to be put in place by 2019, in advance of the forthcoming settlement for local government for that year. I hope that clarifies the matter for him.

The central principle of our approach to implementation of the business rate reforms is that we have developed and continue to develop the detail of provisions through close work with local authorities and businesses. By way of assurance to the Committee and to ensure openness, where possible we will publish draft regulations or policy statements on the content of the provision to be made under the powers in the Bill.

Given the above assurance, I ask the Committee to let the commencement clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the local government finance settlement debate will continue to take place. It is an opportunity for Members across the House to continue to scrutinise not only local government finance as it operates at the moment but, crucially, as we get more clarity, how business rates might end up working when 100% devolved—goodness only knows, we need that clarity.

We have no sense of how the so-called fair funding review will work for each individual local authority. We have no sense as yet of the consequences of the detail of the financial regulations to accompany the Bill. It will therefore be helpful for us to continue to have the opportunity to debate such matters on the Floor of the House and to explore what they mean for each of our local authorities and the public services that they provide to the people of England generally.

It would be helpful to hear a little more from the Minister about any further arrangements for consultation with business. It seems a little odd that before the Bill is commenced, in the light of the huge concern about the business rates revaluation that has hit the media of late, there will not be further detailed consultation with business through local enterprise partnerships. Here is a quote from the Treasury press release that accompanied the previous Chancellor—before he was sacked for incompetence by the current Prime Minister—which outlined how the infrastructure premium would operate:

“Directly elected mayors—once they have support of local business leaders through a majority vote of the business members of the Local Enterprise Partnership—will be able to add a premium to business rates”.

Yet there has been no mention by the Minister of local enterprise partnerships in any of his speeches to date. He might prefer me to have mentioned it earlier in the proceedings—perhaps his memory might have come back to him at that point about why he made the change and decided to cut out local enterprise partnerships from the Bill. It would be good to hear a little more from the Minister about how local enterprise partnerships will be involved in the coming months.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am a little surprised, given that when we were talking this morning about timing and implementation of the various clauses in the Bill, the Minister prayed in aid clause 5, on indexation, and clause 7. When he talks this afternoon about developing policy in conjunction with local authorities and liaising—my verb, not his—it would be good if we had some evidence. He challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West on whether Labour supports clause 7, on rate relief for rural shops, and clause 5, on indexation, to which my hon. Friend gave a clear answer. The Minister relied on those clauses as examples of clarity and the way forward, but if they are so clear, why will their implementation be delayed?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

We have made it quite clear why those matters are to be implemented in that sequence. I made it clear earlier, in answer to the hon. Member for Harrow West, that we consulted widely with business groups, including local enterprise partnerships. This Government do listen. We have decided to bring forward a system in relation to business rate supplements that reflects the views of business, and when proposals are developed in local areas they will certainly need to take into account the views of the business community in that particular combined authority area.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

If this is a Government who listen, why the complete opposition this morning to a review of business rates, which businesses have been asking for?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

As was shown earlier, the hon. Gentleman seems to have undergone a complete transformation while scrutinising the Bill, having previously advocated that local authorities should be able to increase the multiplier at will and therefore increase the tax rate on business rates. He then seemed to have a conversion, given that he now wants to look at a review. I set out our reasoning earlier, carefully and in some detail. As I said, the Government considered the issue of business rates as recently as 2015. We looked at the issue carefully and consulted business groups and local authorities, which at that time thought the system we had, although not perfect, was one the Government should continue with. On that basis, I will curtail my comments and commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 42 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2