Norfolk councils’ caution over rate reforms

Council officials in Norfolk have given a mixed response to government plans to give them more control over business rates.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles yesterday revealed reforms that aim to give local authorities a greater influence on how to spend the rates they collect.

Under the current system, the government receives the money obtained by councils and then redistributes it to stop wealthy areas getting richer and less developed areas getting poorer. But the coalition government hopes it will encourage local authorities to promote economic activity in their area by allowing them to retain a proportion of the business rates.

This is because if they are successful at raising extra cash through rates, they could have more to spend.

Councils will also be able to use this income to borrow money to fund road and transport projects. Business rates are collected from non-domestic properties, such as shops and pubs.

Ian Mackie, Norfolk County Council deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and performance, said the authority had been making strong representations for the area to receive fairer funding and this was 'at the heart' of its response to the government's consultation.

He said: 'Yesterday's development is a positive step in this process, but as with all of these complex matters, it is the small print that really matters and it will be some time before a clear funding picture emerges.'

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But councillor Alan Waters, Norwich City Council cabinet member for resources, said the plans offered no guarantees about how much money each local authority would collect from the rates each year. 'I think a lot of councils, including ours, will be asking questions about the need to make sure there's not risk built into this and that we have all our eggs in one basket about how we fund vital services,' added Mr Waters.

Martin Lake, branch chairman of the Mid Norfolk Federation of Small Businesses, said he was keen on rates being retained locally as it could allow companies to take a bigger interest in how it is spent.

'That would be a massive start towards engaging more people and interest in local politics,' he added.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Steve Ames said he was in favour of the rates proposal in principle, but he needed to further examine the government response.

Stuart Clancy, portfolio holder for economic development at Broadland District Counci, said: 'We will have to wait and see what difference this will make to our revenues. However, as always, Broadland District Council is committed to listening to and working with local business to help them flourish.'

richard.wheeler@archant.co.uk

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