The Lead Finance Officer presented the above report, a copy of which had previously been circulated. He advised that the purpose of the report was for Members to consider and approve Council’s response to the Department of Finance Business Rates Public consultation.
Alderman McClintock said she felt it was essential that the new system was not overladen with red tape and administration. Whilst supporting a number of the suggested reliefs, she referred to the possibility of retaining industrial de-rating in order to assist the manufacturing industry.
Councillor Cooper expressed concern at rates relief for larger entities regardless of whether or not these were charitable organisations, pointing out that those who could afford to pay should do so. He referred to the presentation made at the October Meeting of Committee regarding the matter and referred to the need for Council’s response to include specific reference to the issue of town versus city and the possible introduction of a scheme to ensure more revenue from out of town which would create a fairer system for City centre traders. This would ensure that they are not losing out and rebalance the system.
Councillor McLaughlin welcomed the report and the comprehensive draft response. She referred to the issue of ability to pay which had been addressed and pointed out that some charities were extremely wealthy and were in a position to offer very attractive salaries. She suggested that such organisations should not be offered the same level of relief as independent businesses. She referred to the need for the City centre to be protected within the rates system and the need for greater incentives to be offered to businesses in this area. In regards to the issue of out of town versus City centre, she suggested that greater incentives should be offered to small City centre businesses. She again welcomed the draft response and the process of trying to modernise a very outdated system.
The Lead Finance Officer agreed that red tape, administrative and collection costs needed to be minimised. He said he felt it was important that all reliefs were not maintained and expressed his support for the continuation of industrial de-rating relief. He supported Members’ comments regarding rates relief for charities but reminded Members that a lot of the information had been forthcoming from a Workshop where considerable discussion had taken place regarding ability to pay and the need to focus on the needs of those organisations least able to afford rental payments. He stated that reference had been made to the fact that relief for town centre businesses should be introduced and in regards to the issue of out of town versus City centre he undertook to highlight Members’ suggestions.
In regards to reliefs for charities, Councillor Boyle suggested the introduction of a system which would identify those charities who were eligible to pay rates. He agreed with earlier comments that many charities offered very attractive salaries, a matter which should also be addressed. Whilst acknowledging the work being carried out by charities he questioned if they were all beneficial to society. He referred to the huge number of charity shops currently operating in the City centre and suggested that it would be better for the local economy and general wellbeing if these were occupied by thriving businesses.
Recommended that Council approve the draft response prepared in relation to the Department of Finance Business Rates Public consultation.