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Business rate pooling deadline shifts again

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Authorities wishing to pool their business rates have been given an extra three weeks to finalise their arrangements, LGC has learnt.

The Department for Communities & Local Government has also relaxed its attitude over finalised lists of pool members after initially telling councils these had to be completed by mid September.

The U-turn comes after authorities such as Lichfield DC, Tamworth BC and Cannock Chase DC appealed for more time ahead of the 10 September deadline - a plea which was rejected by DCLG at the time.

All three faced a choice between pooling with Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP and Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP and told DCLG they did not have enough time to make a full analysis of the options. All three ultimately opted to join the Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

As previously reported by LGC, the department wrote to authorities in mid August to inform them of a new 10 September deadline which required them to finalise the membership of their pool - a mechanism by which authorities can reduce or eliminate the tariff payments which some will have to pay to central government under the business rate retention system..

Councils had previously thought they had until 19 October to decide on the final list of poolees, and the tightening of a timetable which was already widely regarded as challenging resulted in two pools - covering Essex and London - withdrawing from the process.

Since then a further two pools have withdrawn from the process, although the department has not revealed their identities.

DCLG hopes the most recent deadline change - which extends the final deadline from 19 October to 9 November - will allow councils who abandoned the process because of the tight timetable to reconsider their decision to withdraw pooling plans.

An email from a DCLG official said: “For those of you had notified me of your intention to withdraw from this round, this may mean that you now wish to reconsider. I hope the extended deadline will be helpful to you.”

According to correspondence seen by LGC, the three week extension was granted because of the decision to delay the Autumn statement by one week, to 5 December, and the knock on delay for publication of the local government settlement.

However, one chief executive said it had more to do with the sector’s complaints to the department about the tight deadline and he praised them for rethinking the timetable.

“DCLG recognises that the time line is very tight and authorities have been asked to complete long before they know what their settlement is likely to be and without having enough time to understand how things will operate in practice,” he said. “It is to DCLG’s credit that that have recognised that,” he added.

The email from DCLG indicates the department has scrapped plans for a September consultation of other parties likely to be affected by any pools, the date of which had been key in the department’s decision to introduce the additional September deadline for the finalised list of pool members. A department spokesman said a new consultation date was to be decided.

The 9 November deadline is the latest of a number of timetabling changes which first started when sector complaints about the initial July deadline for completed pooling bids was changed to allow councils to submit “expressions of interest” which could then be developed in the following months.

Although the department has previously insisted that only pools who expressed an interest in July could proceed, a spokesman confirmed to LGC on Wednesday that it was considering accepting a late submission from one authority - understood to be Lincolnshire.

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