Business Rates – when the well runs dry

By Stuart Hicks

I saw a story recently about the closure of Rugeley Power Station in Staffordshire that will see a £1m hole appear in Cannock Chase District Council’s budget thanks to the disappearing business rates.

This one enterprise alone makes up nine per cent of the authority’s business rate income as one of the biggest rate payers in the district; but it got me thinking about other local authorities which similarly have all or many of their business rate eggs in one basket.

Sheffield City Council, for example, gains 18% of its city region business rates from Meadowhall Shopping Centre – equating to £176m over the last five years – that’s a lot of eggs! The Trafford Centre and its retailers similarly pay around £44m every year in business rates (give or take a few hundred thousand) but at least Trafford MBC does have a more diverse spread of business and enterprise to spread any risk than its Yorkshire neighbour.

Another risk comes from when a major business rate contributor challenges its original rating valuation.

It was revealed only recently that Copeland Council in Cumbria must use £9m of reserves to cover a business rates overpayment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs the Sellafield reprocessing site after it recently won an appeal against the original valuation.

More than 70% of its business rates come from Sellafield Limited but now Copeland Council, the government and Cumbria County Council must jointly return £31.5m following the ruling.

All these examples show how reliant LAs have become on business rate income but withdraw the financial lifeline and some authorities’ finances will be looking decidedly sickly after business rates devolution kicks in.