Tony Dyer, who was announced as the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of Bristol on Monday, has challenged the government to allow Bristol to keep all of its business rates for the next four years - in return for a commitment to freeze council tax over the same period.
He said “Bristol currently sends 50% of its business rates to central government – that adds up to approximately £400m over the next four years – in return, we receive an ever decreasing level of government grant which has already been cut by £50m per year since 2013 and is expected to further decrease over the next four years. As a result, Bristol will effectively be losing some £200m of the business rates it raises between now and 2020.”
Dyer's challenge follows the announcement by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference that local authorities will be allowed to retain 100% of their business rates (1), but this is not expected to happen in England until the end of the current parliament in 2020 (2). Meanwhile, in Scotland, local authorities are already able to keep their business rates (3).
Dyer continues: “Bristol, alone of the core cities, voted to adopt the Mayoral system of local governance in a referendum. Prior to that referendum, the Conservative-led government promised devolved powers to English cities and highlighted the adoption of a Mayoral system as a key criteria for devolution. Bristol has now met the criteria but the promised powers have failed to materialise. Letting us keep the business rates we generate in our own city, so we can invest them in the future of our city, will be a real signal of this government's commitment to keeping its promises on devolution.”
Dyer is proposing that, if agreed, the majority of the £200m should be used for capital investment in infrastructure projects, projects that have the greatest potential to improve areas such as housing, transport, skills, energy and job creation.
"We need to invest carefully and prudently in projects that offer clear economic, environmental, and social benefits to our city and its citizens. It is a damaging fallacy to assume that public sector investment will crowd out private sector investment - done correctly it will enhance and attract additional investment and generate further opportunities to build a better Bristol"
Examples of potential projects in which a Green Mayor could invest include;
- £60m towards building 1,000 council homes on 20 council owned or controlled sites across the city including Southmead, Lawrence Weston, Sea Mills, Lockleaze, Filwood, Hartcliffe and Hengrove.
- £20m towards a New Deal for Neighbourhoods aimed at tackling deprivation in the 40 Bristol neighbourhoods that are classified as being amongst the most deprived 10% in England.
- £6m towards building a Sustainable Construction Skills Centre in South Bristol which has 10 of England's most deprived 1% of neighbourhoods for education, skills and training.
- £20m towards new rail stations at Ashton Gate, Ashley Hill, Constable Road, Henbury and Portway to improve transport connectivity in areas like Bedminster, Ashley, Lockleaze, Henbury/Brentry, and Avonmouth/Shirehampton.
- £3m (on top of the existing funding already in the council budget) to open the Hartcliffe Way Recycling Centre and keep it open whilst increasing its capacity for repair and reuse, helping to reduce waste whilst also creating jobs.
- £30m to purchase the Memorial Ground with a view to enabling, in full and open consultation with local residents, a mixed-use development of new homes and short-lease offices and workshops for local businesses.
- £10m towards the removal of Lawrence Hill Roundabout, reconnecting Old Market with East Bristol and releasing 4.5 hectares of mostly council owned development land to help regenerate the most deprived ward in Bristol.
- £10m towards remodelling the Old Market roundabout, re-establishing the traditional link between the Castle Park area and Old Market and opening up further regeneration and connectivity opportunities.
- £21.5m towards developing renewable energy projects both small and large scale and in full consultation with local communities to create local jobs and enterprises, and deliver safe, secure and affordable energy for the city's future.
- £3m towards the development of an energy efficiency household loan scheme to help families reduce their energy bills.
- £4m towards new road safety measures to reduce the number and severity of collisions on Bristol's roads.
- £4.5m towards introducing Oyster-card style smart ticketing for public transport across Bristol and the wider region allowing better integration of Bristol's transport system.
- £6m towards upgrading bus stops and maintaining pavements, cycle paths and bus lanes, and providing other services and routes to encourage sustainable transport use.
- £2m towards delivering aids and adaptations for disabled people living in their own homes, helping them to live more independently and continue to play an active role in their communities.
Altogether, this illustrative list totals some £200m of potential projects that offer positive economic, social and environmental impacts for Bristol and its citizens.
Tony Dyer said: “Many parts of our city are suffering severe disadvantages, with over 40 Bristol neighbourhoods ranked in the most deprived 10% in the country. If Bristol was allowed to retain its business rates, as was the case prior to 1990, it would free up funding to allow the city to address the underlying problems causing those deep pockets of poverty, and reduce levels of inequality within the city that are so divisive and ultimately detrimental to all of us”
- George Osborne: Councils to keep £26bn in business rates: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34445311
- Business Rates devo potentially big boost for cities: http://www.centreforcities.org/blog/business-rates-devo-potentially-big-boost-for-cities/
- SNP conference: John Swinney to give Scottish councils business rate powers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-34546277