Dear Mr Pickles, can we keep our business rates?

CAMDEN’S irked finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell wrote to the government this week complaining that it is not being clear enough about what it will do – and what it won’t do – to help local authorities trying to make ends meet with smaller settlements. No doubt Eric Pickles’s postbag is pretty full right now of similar letters.

An interesting section of the letter, see above, is about a bit of a holy grail for Camden and the idea of retaining a bigger share of business rates collected by the council. Just imagine if Camden, covering as it does the fringe of the West End, Camden Town and, as Theo notes the new King’s Cross development, could keep more of the money it collects from businesses. The extra dough would come in kind of handy right now.

Conservative and Lib Dem ministers have talked warmly about the idea of local authorities keeping the money they raise rather than sharing it elsewhere. The government promotes the idea of loosening its role as middle man. But you get the lasting impression from councillors up at Judd Street that although it might be nice to dream about such a lottery win, they deep down think it’s all a bit of wishful thinking. The holy grail, they suggest, may forever remain beyond reach.

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