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Devolution will help British businesses ‘thrive’, says survey

Words: Laura Edgar

Business leaders believe that devolving powers over areas such as housing and transport to local authorities would boost British companies, according to a survey.

A national YouGov survey, commissioned by the Centre for Cities and polling 1,000 British business owners and senior managers, found that 57 per cent think their companies would benefit from local government having more control over local transport. Seventeen per cent of businesses say less power would help them.

The findings of the survey are published in a report, Firm Views: The Business Take On Devolution (pdf), by the think tank in association with law firm TLT.

The survey also found that 51 per cent think that local government having powers over major infrastructure projects such as housing developments would be an “advantage” to their businesses, while 22 per cent say they would benefit from less.

The report says the findings might reflect that businesses think they will have a “greater ability to influence priorities for their area if more power is held at local level”.

Smaller surveys were run with the local Chambers of Commerce of business leaders in Bristol and the West of England, Greater Birmingham, and Greater Manchester. Roundtables were held in each of these areas too, as well as Glasgow.

Although London businesses contributed to the funding of Crossrail, the local surveys found that the principle of paying supplementary charges to fund this kind of project and other such local investments is not favoured.

But the report states: “During the roundtable discussions it became clear that attitudes to additional tax are more nuanced, with businesses more willing to pay if they are confident in local leaders and about what taxes will be used for.”

Forty-three per cent of respondents did say that their business would welcome local politicians being able to vary or retain local tax rates to help unlock investment.

The survey also found that 79 per cent of business leader did not feel they have had the opportunity to contribute to the devolution agenda, having received little or no consultation from local government about their views on proposals.

Local authority leaders need to ensure that local firms are at the heart of the discussion on key economic priorities such as transport, infrastructure and local tax rates, says the report.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the think tank Centre for Cities, said: “For local leaders to really make the most of the opportunities that devolution could bring, it’s vital that they work with partners in the local business community to ensure that they have a shared understanding of local economic priorities, and that local governments are well-placed to use their new powers to meet the needs of local firms. This will be crucial in making sure that places and businesses across the UK are in the best possible position to capitalise on the benefits that devolution could offer.”

David Pester, managing partner of UK law firm TLT, added: “From discussing the topic with clients and other businesses throughout the UK, it’s clear that there is a desire within the business community for devolution to work. But there’s also concern that if all parties are not involved in ongoing discussions, devolved powers may not have the intended economic impact and we risk this becoming a missed opportunity for the UK as a whole.”