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The calm before the storm

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

It’s quiet. A little too quiet.

While leading figures in local government almost obsess about business rates reforms, this major change in the way services will be funded from the end of this decade appears to have generated little excitement outside of the sector – so far.

Among the latest developments is the fact the DCLG is considering creating a national pot for business rates appeals. It is also thinking again about whether to give local enterprise partnerships a vote on whether to allow mayoral combined authorities to raise an infrastructure levy.

At the Local Government Association’s finance conference last Thursday there was some confusion as to why businesses especially had not been particularly vocal about what may, or may not, happen in due course.

It is not as if there has been a shortage of opinion – the Department for Communities & Local Government received about 460 responses to last year’s consultation on 100% business rates retention.

Central government civil servants, along with representatives from local government on the steering group, are gradually formulating their views based on that feedback.

With some surprise in his voice the DCLG’s deputy director for local government finance reform and settlement Stuart Hoggan said the process had gone “exceptionally well” so far, although the LGA’s chair Lord Porter (Con) does not believe the harmonious relationship will last very long. 

Of course, it is easy for everyone to stay on good terms when the nuts and bolts of the new system have not yet been fitted and it is not yet known who the winners and losers will be.

Businesses aside, one senior figure involved in the discussions told LGC they were also concerned about the lack of involvement to date from ministers and MPs.

While the DCLG’s civil servants were “eminently sensible” the source expressed doubt politicians would be as considered and constructive once they get involved.

The fear is MPs won’t do that until towards the very end of the process, by which time the small matter of a general election will be looming large on the horizon.

Lord Porter expects business rates reforms to “end in tears”. That may well be the case, but it might not necessarily be for the reasons he predicted.

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