By Marcus Leach

Westminster City Council are pushing for a fairer business rates collection system as it believes councils have a bigger part to play in stimulating local economic growth than any Government cash boost.

Following the news that chancellor George Osborne announced a £30 billion package for the UK, Cllr Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster City Council has urged for immediate action on business rates being channelled back into where they come from, so that the council can focus money from business back into its own High Streets, making the council even more accountable in the process.

Currently Westminster collects £1.4bn in rates — 7.4% of the national total, and more than twice as much as the second largest collector, the City of London.

And yet, the collected cash ends up in a national pot to be distributed evenly across the country. Westminster only gets back 10% of the money its businesses contribute.

Cllr Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster City Council, wants the best possible deal for Westminster businesses and said that councils should take the lead.

“It is about time a fairer amount of business rate cash is fed back into the area it is taken from, so the centre of London can continue to prosper. This will in turn benefit the whole of London,” he said.

“Westminster City Council has always taken extremely seriously its obligations towards business in the city and to its neighbors.

“Businesses do not vote, but their success is vital to our vision of a strong and prosperous community and we are proud to host more businesses here than any council in the country and value their contribution to the local and national economy.”

Independent forecasts predict that London is well placed to weather the economic and financial storms afflicting the wider national and global economy.

The Oxford Economics study, published in October 2011, states that projected growth in the capital will exceed that of its European rivals.

And sectors particularly important to the Westminster economy are expected to perform well. In particular, the service sector, hospitality and retail are projected to grow by an average of 2.6%, 3.7% and 1.3% per annum respectively before the end of 2012.

Westminster’s economic growth is also expected to outflank that of most other London boroughs over the next five years due to its diversity of sectors. GDP growth is forecast to accelerate to 1.8% in 2012 and then average around 3.6% per year over 2013-15. (ibid)

And historically, the council has put a number of initiatives in place to help businesses in Westminster.

Key achievements over the last few years have included:

- Supporting local firms in the downturn with a City Recovery Programme focused on the survival of small businesses in the city

- Publishing the first local authority Manifesto for Business with specific commitments against which local businesses can hold the council to account

- Establishing a BID Development Fund to assist businesses in the creation of Business Improvement Districts.

- No local authority area has more than Westminster and they provide local businesses with a clear voice while allowing them to raise money for investment in local projects or services that enhance the commercial environment.

- The Cabinet Member for Enterprise chairs the West End Partnership (formerly the West End Marketing Alliance), responsible for promoting the city at home and abroad. Past initiatives, such as the Trafalgar Square Maze, have attracted audiences in China, the US and elsewhere.

- Providing targeted support for a key local sector through our Creative Industries Programme which has helped hundreds of local companies compete on the world stage with rivals from Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Bangalore and generate more than £8 million in new sales and investments for a sector responsible for 90,000 jobs in Westminster.

- Opened the new Hub Westminster facilities in Piccadilly which will give up to 1,000 micro-businesses, start-ups and social enterprises the chance to base themselves in the heart of London at an affordable rate.

- Even in difficult financial times, we have organized the annual West End Live festival which showcases the best London theatrical productions in what has become Europe’s largest free theatre event. Last year this event generated £3 million for the local economy.

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