THE BUDGET AND BUSINESS RATES.
The coverage of the row over the hike in business rates has shown once again that the media generally sees things from a London and south of England perspective.
There are rumours that the Chancellor is going to take steps to soften the blow of this overdue review of business rates. If he does, it will mean he is not listening to the wise and under reported views of the leader of Rochdale Council. Richard Farnell has pointed out that he knows a chippy in Rochdale that is paying more per square metre than Harrods and says the south is squealing because it is being asked to pay its fair share. Farnell claims that most businesses in greater Manchester will be better off. Spot on Richard. Not before time this review is reflecting the soaring value of property in the overheated south eastern economy whereas some parts of the North have seen property values decrease. That should be reflected in what firms have to pay.
It is true that southern businesses shouldn’t be subjected to huge rises all at once, but the answer to that is for gutless politicians to review business rates more regularly irrespective of whether there is an election on the horizon. It is also true that we need to review the whole system to reflect the growth of on-line businesses that pay nothing, but that is for the future. If the Chancellor gives concessions next week it will be a victory for the effective southern Tory lobbying exercise and for south centric reporting by the media.
MAJOR BUDGET TASKS.
As we saw in his first autumn statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond is not inclined to dramatic and colourful gestures. Indeed, his most surprising announcement in November was to say that this will be the last spring Budget. Signals have been sent out that rebadged austerity is to continue with departments told to find savings in the run up to the next election.
It is true that the national debt stands at £1.8 trillion and the deficit is on track to be £68bn this year, but if this means we are set for a cautious budget then major problems facing the nation will continue to get worse.
Leaving the enormous uncertainties of the Brexit negotiations to one side there is a widespread belief that the government’s recent announcements on housing and skills are not adequate. The crisis in the NHS and particularly social care are laid bare on a daily basis. On the latter point, will we see the Chancellor break with caution and raise the possibility of dipping into people’s assets after they die to fund the rising cost of social care? The political problem is that, in opposition in 2007, the Tories denounced the suggestion, proposed by Labour, as a “death tax” and unveiled posters with the slogan “RIP OFF”.
However, some courage is required and with all the opposition parties so weak at the moment, there is no excuse for a lack of political courage in the budget.
GORTON PARLIAMENTARY SELECTION.
If Labour is serious about having MPs who reflect the area, then an Asian candidate should be chosen for the Gorton seat left vacant by the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman.
Although North West MEP, Afzal Khan, is the frontrunner, don’t be surprised if someone from outside that constituency or even Greater Manchester is chosen to avoid internal rivalries.
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