Devolution on the agenda

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As England celebrates St George’s Day (April 23), a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce shows that businesses based in England want more decisions taken in town halls – rather than from Whitehall.

The results from more than 1,300 English firms show that 42% believe greater devolution to their local area would have a positive impact on their business; while a quarter (26%) think it would have negative consequences.

business plan

Cornwall Chamber of Commerce recently released its Business Plan for Cornwall, a manifesto containing the findings from a survey of the business community in Cornwall.

Echoing the National view, the Business Plan for Cornwall states that 38% of respondents would prefer responsibility for decisions affecting the business environment to devolve to the counties (ie Cornwall & Isles of Scilly) and that 18% would prefer responsibility to devolve at a regional level (south west). Only 11% said they would prefer responsibility to return to Westminster/central control.

The BCC survey results state that nearly a third of English businesses would expect their tax bills to rise if set locally, versus 18% who expect to pay less tax. Similarly, over a third of companies who completed the Business Plan for Cornwall survey believe that their business tax rates would rise if they were to be set locally.

Differing from the national standpoint, a high proportion of Cornwall’s businesses (49% of Business Plan respondents) said that they would be open to higher taxation if it meant that more of it was retained and spent in Cornwall & Isles of Scilly. Only 34% of those who completed the BCC survey supported this view.

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said: “Businesses don’t support devolution for devolution’s sake. However, they support greater local-decision-making if it means greater efficiency, great accountability and better results.”

The Cornwall Chamber of Commerce believes this is also the case for Cornwall’s business; the potential effects of devolution were viewed particularly positively by respondents when related to the impact on business rates, transport investment, housing and adult skills.

Chief executive, Kim Conchie, said: “We need to develop clarity about the exact form devolution will take.

“The Business Plan for Cornwall calls for a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly leaders group, which would undertake further research and compile a clear list of elements to be devolved. I believe this is what’s needed in order to ensure we have a model that we have confidence in.”