By Max Clarke

As part of the Government’s ‘Big Society’ push, the Localism Bill aims to shift power from central government back to local communities.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is concerned that the Bill as it stands is a missed opportunity that doesn’t fully recognise the importance of businesses in the local community.

“The aims of the Localism Bill are clear,” commented the FSB’s National Chairman, John Walker, “but there are many issues that need to be addressed while it is still being debated and before it is enshrined in law. We call for MPs to amend the Bill to ensure that the needs of local businesses are fully reflected.”

Small firms are the drivers of local economies and will take the lead in ensuring that economic recovery is strengthened. The FSB is concerned that the neighbourhood planning proposals, including neighbourhood forums proposed in the Bill, do not adequately provide for local business involvement.

Continued Walker: We are disappointed that the Bill doesn’t currently recognise the importance of local businesses within the local community — it will be these businesses that will be key to strengthening the economic recovery.”

The FSB is urging MPs to amend this part of the Bill as it reaches Report Stage in Parliament to ensure that business owners are able to join the forums to protect economic growth in local areas.

There should also be more recognition of the role that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) can play. LEPs could be instrumental in holding councils to account if they fail to co-operate on key strategic issues such as transport and planning across local authority boundaries under the ‘duty to co-operate’ clause.

Finally, FSB also has significant concerns over part of the Bill which would give local communities the right to nominate and then suspend the sale of a local business property that has been placed on a safe list, known as The Community Right to Buy.

The FSB is concerned that this confusing proposal misses the mark, as although the Government’s aim is to help local communities preserve local assets it would, in fact, be more likely to put a small business owner at risk.

For many local communities it is the service that the business provides — not the property — that is the asset. Restricting the sale of a property to give the community the time to bid for it would not necessarily preserve the business itself, just delay the actual sale of the property and potentially threaten a viable private sale.

John Walker continued to outline issues with the Bill:“One of the FSB’s main concerns is that businesses cannot currently become involved with the neighbourhood forums on planning. While residents may have an idea about what they would like to see, it is only fair that the local businesses that generate growth and prosperity in the areas have their say too.

“For example it simply doesn’t make sense that local business owners could not become members of a forum covering an area such as a town centre or industrial estate, when it is not just residents that would be affected by planning decisions. We want to see an immediate change in this part of the bill.

“We are also concerned that businesses placed on the ‘Community Right to Buy’ lists will see their properties devalue and that potential buyers could be deterred from buying their property. We want to see the Bill amended so that any community group that wants to place a property on the list should have to demonstrate the willingness and ability to buy it. ”