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Business rates reform is a 'fantastic opportunity' for local government

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The Chancellor’s business rates reforms have taken local government by surprise.  They were less of a surprise to me: I have been campaigning hard for these changes for the last 18 months, and felt positive about the progress being made.  But if I’m honest even I didn’t expect to see change happen as quickly as it has.

It has been clear to me for some time that securing a positive future for the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames relies upon us negotiating a new deal not only with local people but also with central government. 

Kevin Davies (Con) leader of Kingston LBC

Kevin Davies (Con) leader of Kingston LBC

Of course there are many details around business rates reform yet to be announced.  And yes, I’m sure this new-found freedom will come with some additional responsibilities down the track.  But it will take an awful lot of bad news for me to think that on balance this isn’t a fantastic opportunity for local government.

Financial independence will motivate areas like Kingston to drive economic growth.  It will encourage local councils to become more business-like themselves and adopt a more entrepreneurial approach.

I have spent the last two months speaking with hundreds of residents at a series of ‘Kingston Conversation’ events across our borough.  It is clear that local people expect us to be creative in the way we manage our declining budgets and protect the services that they need most.  We should be spending just as much time looking at new ways of increasing our revenues as we are planning how to reduce expenditure.  

Business rates reforms offer a real opportunity for areas, like Kingston, that are embracing ambitious growth agendas.  By retaining our business rates, we can ensure that the benefits of growth can be felt closer to home.  

Of course not all parts of the country are primed for growth in the same way that Kingston is.  And there is no reason to think that equalisation will disappear; those areas that need additional support should continue to get it.  But areas like Kingston need to stop feeling like they are being unfairly penalised.  

So I see this as a welcome vote of confidence in local government and a huge opportunity.  It won’t save us from having to lead the public sector response to deficit reduction and we still need to radically remodel what we do over the next four years.  But it does provide a framework for building a longer-term sustainable financial footing for our sector.  

Kevin Davis (Con), leader Kingston upon Thames RBC

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