The risk of business rate behemoths
I saw a story recently about the closure of Rugeley Power Station in Staffordshire which will see a £1m hole appear in Cannock Chase District Council’s budget thanks to the disappearing business rates.
This one enterprise alone makes up 9% of the authority’s business rate income as one of the biggest rate payers in the district. But it got me thinking about other local authorities which similarly have all or many of their business rate eggs in one basket.
Sheffield City Council, for example, gains 18% of its city region business rates from Meadowhall Shopping Centre, equating to £176m over the last five years – that’s a lot of eggs! The Trafford Centre and its retailers similarly pay around £44m every year in business rates (give or take a few hundred thousand) but at least Trafford Council does have a more diverse spread of business and enterprise to spread any risk than its Yorkshire neighbour.
Another risk comes from when a major business rate contributor challenges its original rating valuation.
It was revealed only recently that Copeland Council in Cumbria must use £9m of reserves to cover a business rates overpayment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs the Sellafield reprocessing site after it recently won an appeal against the original valuation.
More than 70% of its business rates come from Sellafield Limited but now Copeland Council, the government and Cumbria County Council must jointly return £31.5m following the ruling.
All these examples show how reliant Local Authorities have become on business rate income but if you withdraw the financial lifeline, some authorities’ finances will be looking decidedly sickly after business rates devolution kicks in.
We have read a lot in the media and from MPs on the subject of appealing against unfair business rates but the touchy topic has now reared its head...
In 2016, I commented on the government’s proposals to introduce discretion into the appeal process, with appeals being refused if the reduction in assessment determined was not big enough.
Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced a handful of relief schemes for those hardest hit by increases in liability resulting from the 2017 Rating Revaluation.