Business rates’ review – devolution, reform, or simply passing the buck?

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Valuation Office Agency is more than a quarter of the way through its revaluation of the country’s commercial property, despite the findings from this year’s business rates’ review due in a matter of weeks.

This is leading to speculation that the promised overhaul isn’t going to be quite the business rates revolution some were hoping for.

The VOA expects to post the draft Rating List by next Autumn, with results from the business rates review due at the end of 2015 and then supposedly coming into effect in 2017. The review itself is tipped at costing the taxpayer £26m; so why spend all this money on a review that is unlikely to make substantial change to the mechanics of the older system the Government claims to be scrutinising?

So far, according to the FOI request, some 474,000 of the 1.8 million business properties have been revaluated for the 2017 Rating List.

The Government says the structural review for business rates has not had any effect on 2017 Revaluation and added the current revaluation was a legal requirement that had been taken into account and confirmed when the business rates review was launched. “The revaluation is consistent with this wide-ranging review, which aims to consider the long-term future of business rates and will be concluded by the end of the year.” said the statement.

So, should we be worried that the much-vaunted review is now nothing more than a paper exercise with George Osborne happy to just devolve responsibility for the future of business rates to Local Authorities?

The review made great headlines pre-General Election for the Chancellor and the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander but, now they are enjoying a slim majority in the Commons, I’m not so sure that wholesale reform is high on their agenda particularly with the business rates’ headache being neatly pushed onto the regions. You could call it devolution, reform, or simply passing the buck – take your pick, personally I am going for the latter…

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