Economy and Infrastructure

11.09.17

Council slams Javid for ‘empty rhetoric’ and radio silence on council finances

A Basildon councillor has been left frustrated at the failure of communities secretary Sajid Javid to respond to a letter concerning council finances sent to him 10 weeks ago.

Cllr Gavin Callaghan, the authority’s Policy and Resources Committee chairman, sent the letter to the DCLG in July and followed up on the request on 16 August, but still hasn’t heard back from Javid.

The Labour councillor had asked for an early statement on the government’s plans to give councils greater control over their income following the Queen’s Speech in June, which he claimed failed to clearly set out details on the move towards 100% business rates retention.

“We have a promise to our residents to respond to letters within 10 working days,” Cllr Callaghan stated. “The secretary of state has had 10 weeks to reply and I am still waiting.  

“What we do have now is the announcement of yet further pilots – it is simply not good enough. We need certainty now, not more prevarication.”

The Basildon councillor also argued that closing a budget gap that currently stands at £4.1m is challenging enough without the added uncertainty, and that gap could grow even further if government U-turns on its local government finance settlement pledge.

“Our ability to provide the services our communities need is seriously threatened by this lack of action,” Cllr Callaghan continued. “The government was generous with its words about empowering local councils, but this looks now just like empty rhetoric. You cannot empower local councils if you impoverish them.

“This needs decisive action and fast. More pilots just kick this into the long grass when what we need is decisive action and fast.

“If the secretary of state has more to say that can offer reassurance that councils, the services they provide and the communities we provide them to, really do matter to him, then perhaps he can do me the courtesy of telling me.”

The roll-out of 100% business rates retention has been slow so far and criticised by a number of different organisations.

In July, a London Councils report said that the delivery of the policy by 2019-20 was now “unrealistic” as their will be no Local Government Finance Bill in the next two years.

The Federation of Small Businesses has also expressed frustration at the DCLG for its handling of the roll-out and demanded that Javid sort out the “shambolic delay” on a business rates relief fund made available for the firms hit hardest by changes.

DCLG has been contacted for comment by PSE but at the time of writing had not issued a response.

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