Wednesday, 7 October 2015
The Tories gave, and the Tories have taken away: blessed be he name of the Tories
Actually the quotation should be the other way round. It was a Tory government under Mrs Thatcher which took away the right of local government to set, keep and spend the business rate. Now George Osborne has the cheek to claim a revolution rather than a "U" turn by giving it back again.
Although, of course, not all the powers are returned. Most local authorises will be permitted to vary the business rate in one direction only - downwards. Only those authorities which succumb to central government bullying and agree to combine and have a separately elected executive mayor will be able to vary it upwards, and then only by a maximum of 2% (and, curiously, provided they have the support of the business community - how will this be assessed?)
This may be devolution, but only in the sense of the conclusion of Stanley Holloway's monologue on Magna Carta, the result of which is claimed to be :
"That in England today we can do as we like.
So long as we do what we're told."
Osborne is also rather coy on how, and how much, money will be redistributed from richer local authorities to poorer ones, which is one of the most important functions of central government..
Westminster council in London with a population of 227 0000, can raise almost £2bn from business rates This, according to Larry Elliott (page 6, Guardian, 06/10/15) is more than the combined business rates of Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Bristol, with a total population of 3 million, can raise.
Of course, equalisation can be achieved by the redistribution of general taxation and not just business rates, but without details, the Tory recipe seems to be one by which the already prosperous shall prosper even more. Another odd biblical quotation springs to mind: "Unto him that hath shall be given...." even if nothing is actually taken away from him that hath not.
In all it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what is actually devolved in this ploy is responsibility, and blame, for the public expenditure cuts made by the central government in their policy of reducing the size of the state