Scotland steal a march on England for business rate reforms

For once it seems Scotland have trumped England in terms of populist policies with the announcement  that local councils north of the border will have the power to lower business rates bills as from 31 October.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney told the SNP conference in Aberdeen that councils will have the “substantial new power” as from next Saturday and that local government will also be able to keep all the cash it collects in business rates.

That goes one step further than George Osborne was prepared to go with his business rates bombshell at the Tory Conference, but Scotland seem to be implementing their changes with the space of a week where as local authorities in England will only see the changes in place by 2020.

Scottish Government ministers are using the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by Holyrood in June, to allow their councils to reduce business rates, tailoring any rate cuts to their geographical or business needs.

Speaking ahead of his main conference address Mr Swinney said: “The Scottish Government is committed to giving communities real control over their own futures. This substantial new power will give councils more control over business rates, and an opportunity to tailor them to their local area.” He added that, in contrast to England, they will be able to retain all the business rates they collect.

His key word would seem to be flexibility and I’m sure the England’s local authorities will be watching with keen interest as to how their northern cousins fare with these new revenue-raising powers.

Some may feel frustrated by the delay in which England’s LAs get their hands on the new devolved powers;  but they should look on the bright side and see Scotland as a bit of a business rates’ experiment where we can watch from the side-lines and see what exactly success or failure at grass roots level really looks after four years of bedding in. I see this as a perfect opportunity to watch and learn from Scotland’s lead and, at least, any “fact-finding” junkets by English LA’s shouldn’t end up breaking the bank either!

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