On the last day of Parliament, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles presented the findings of a six-month review into council finance that sought to repatriate business rates; create a financial incentive for councils to promote local and sustainable economic growth; reduce dependency upon central Government grant; and maintain protections for small business and vulnerable areas.
The National Audit Office has criticised the current system maintained by Labour as ‘highly complex and not transparent’. I believe a new system is needed to end a long-standing problem where councils have no direct growth incentive, to build stronger relationships with business and to put councils in charge of their own financial circumstances.
Local businesses have been hit hard by the last Labour Government’s hike in business rates and since being elected I have been representing those concerns with Ministers. Importantly, there will be no change to the way business pays the tax, who is eligible for discount, or the way it is set nationally. National discounts and rate relief will also continue to be supported, meaning no change to such groups as charities, amateur sports clubs, voluntary groups, those in hardship, and eligible rural or small businesses.
The Government has doubled small business rate relief, to help half a million small firms, funding the extra scheme for two years from 2010 to 2012, and is making it easier for small firms to get small business rate relief automatically, through changes in the Localism Bill. I have been pushing for the automatic payment of business rate relief for years as the current system is so confusing, complex and often seen as unfair.
The Localism Bill will also provide Cornwall Council with the opportunity of varying business rates – often the third largest cost to local businesses. This could really help to build small businesses and jobs.
I was also pleased by the Treasury’s announcement of more money coming into Cornwall to support the economic development of coastal communities. Money raised by the Crown Estate’s marine activities will be repatriated to coastal communities around the UK.
The new Coastal Communities Fund will support a wide range of projects, including those that support charities, the environment, education and health – examples of projects could include support for developing renewable energy, improving skills or environmental improvement.
The fund will be opening in April 2012 with an estimated £23.7 million in its first year. I encourage local organisations to find out more and apply – this fund has the potential to have real and lasting impact on our local economy.
Finally, it was great to be back home and in time to visit some schools and share in the end of term celebrations. I was particularly pleased to visit Mylor Primary School and be grilled by the Year Six students about my life as their MP and to share in the Leavers and Prize Day celebrations at Probus School. I wish the teachers and staff in all the schools in my constituency a well deserved break over the summer holidays.