§ Mr. Kidney
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) if he will abolish the requirement on local authorities to hold annual local consultation meetings with business rates payers; 
(2) what assessment he has made of the usefulness of the compulsory annual local consultation meetings between local authorities and business rates payers regarding national non-domestic rates. 
§ Ms Beverley Hughes
We will be considering the future of the consultation duty under the Local Government Finance Act 1992 as we develop proposals on the local authority-business partnership arrangements that will be required before local authorities can raise a supplementary local rate. Policy on this was set out in the 1998 White Paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People". We shall be consulting further on the details before introducing the necessary legislation.
In considering the future of the existing duty, we will also be taking account of the findings of the research into the duty published by the Department of Environment "Local Partnerships—A Research Review of Local Authorities' Statutory Duties to Consult with Business" (1997). In addition, we will also be making use of research commissioned by this Department, which is to be published shortly, about business perceptions of local government and local government involvement with the business community.
§ Ms Beverley Hughes
We hold meetings periodically with representative business organisations, at which the Local Government Association is represented, to discuss matters of concern to ratepayers.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions chaired a meeting on 7 September to discuss how to handle the effects of the non-domestic rate revaluation this April. The review group, which we established last month to consider how the revaluation system can be improved, includes representatives from the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Local Government Association, as well as officials from this and other Departments, the National Assembly for Wales and the Valuation Office Agency. There are also regular ad hoc contacts at official level.
This system of consultation works well, and we intend to continue with it.