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Business fears rates shake-up.

West Midlands industry leaders fear business rates could rocket like council taxes if local authorities are allowed to set them.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce believes handing control of the rate - currently set and collected by the Government - to councils would cause issues with competitiveness.

Annette Fitzgerald, head of policy at the chamber, said a survey of members had shown a vast majority were in favour of the current system instead of local control on the rates.

'There are a number of potential pitfalls that we can see arising with the idea of devolving control of the National Non-Domestic Rate,' she said.

'The current level of business rates is a major concern to companies and allowing local authorities to set them could cause further problems.

'Over the last few years places like Warwick have seen council taxes rise by more than 20 per cent, which, along with property process, has seen many first time buyers priced out of the market.

'It would be a disaster if local control of the NNDR had a similar effect on small businesses in the area.

'One of the biggest, though, is the chance that neighbouring areas or business districts that fall under different authorities could be subject to wildly different rates.

'The current trend for Business Improvement Districts is a much preferred way of raising extra income locally. The money from BIDs also has to be assigned to a specific project, and businesses seem to welcome that level of accountability and transparency.'

Meanwhile, Southern Staffordshire Chamber of Industry has also warned that regeneration opportunities could be under threat if local councils were to be allowed to set business rates.

Bill Jones, SSCCI policy manager, said: 'Allowing local authorities to again set business rates could tempt councils to increase levies in order to raise revenue, thus increasing their spending power without the threat of council tax hikes.

'Such increases would be particularly damaging to firms in disadvantaged areas where the funding could be better used for regeneration purposes thereby creating investment and business opportunities for the good of the whole area.'
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 24, 2005
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