HC Deb 16 March 1993 vol 221 cc191-2

I have one final announcement, which will be of direct help to many businesses.

My last Budget helped many thousands of firms by altering the business rates transitional arrangements to accelerate the gains of those who gained most from the change in the system, while freezing real rates bills which otherwise would have risen substantially.

The freeze applied for one year only, so many businesses now face a substantial increase in their rates bills in the year ahead—up to 20 per cent. over and above inflation on large properties and up to 15 per cent. on small properties.

It would, I believe, be wrong to impose such increases in present circumstances. I therefore propose for a further year to freeze in real terms the rates bills of those losing from the new system.

As a result of this and last year's measures, no business will face a real increase in its rates bill in the year ahead, and many will benefit from reductions. In cash terms, that means that no bill will rise by more than 3.6 per cent.—the increase in the RPI in the year to last September.

Subject to Parliament's approval, the Government will again pay extra sums into the business rates pool to ensure that the income of local authorities is not reduced. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will shortly introduce a Bill to implement these proposals. Full details will be published today in a press notice.

The new measure will reduce the total business rates bill in England and Wales next year by 2.6 per cent. Bills in Scotland and Northern Ireland will likewise be reduced by 2.6 per cent. in aggregate. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland will be announcing the details.

These measures will again bring significant and early benefit to many thousands of businesses throughout the United Kingdom. About 800,000 business properties will benefit. The revenue cost is estimated to be some £370 million in 1993–94, and some £260 million in 1994–95.

Taken together, the measures I have announced will reduce the burden on business by about £1 billion in the year ahead. I hope that the House will agree that this is the best possible use for the sums I have been able to raise this year.