Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter this week confirmed the body’s new hardline approach to business rates retention, publicly rejecting any imposition of new duties from central government.
Last week, Room151 revealed a shift in approach by the LGA towards a stronger rejection of the idea that business rates retention should be accompanied by new service obligations for councils.
Speaking to the LGA annual conference, Lord Porter said that councils should expect to be rewarded for their success in slashing budgets during the recent period of austerity.
He said: “Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.
“We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.
“But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends.”
On business rates, Lord Porter said that “whatever happens going forward, we are clear that all the money we collect each year needs to stay with us. And then we will make sure it is spent well”.
As recently as May, theLGA was taking a softer line on new duties which the government proposed should accompany 100% rates retention.
In a briefing that month, it said that “before any additional responsibilities can be transferred to local government to be funded through further business rates retention, it is imperative that local authorities must be able to use the additional income from business rates to address existing funding pressures.”
But in his speech Lord Porter adopted a more aggressive tone, rejecting outright the idea that councils should take on new duties in return for retention.
He said: “We must be able to choose for ourselves how we spend it locally and we need to be clear that we don’t want any new duties. We’ve already got enough to do!”
In the Queen’s Speech, the government dropped immediate plans to legislate for business rates retention through a new Local Government Finance Bill.
Lord Porter also suggested that the complexity of negotiating Brexit meant that local government should be given extra powers to raise and spend money.
He said: “Whilst you’re getting on with Brexit, let us help you keep the country running, let us keep our money, and give us the powers that we need so that we can get on with the job.”
He called for the government to lift the council tax and housing revenue account borrowing caps.
In a speech to conference after Lord Porter had addressed delegates, communities secretary Sajid Javid failed to mention the business rates retention issue.