Passing the buck without the bucks: Some reflections on fiscal decentralisation and the Business Rate Retention Scheme in England

Article English OPEN
Muldoon-Smith, Kevin ; Greenhalgh, Paul (2015)

In an era of continuing Local Government austerity and enhanced urban financialisation, Local Government in England is increasingly reliant upon decentralised methods of urban finance (typically based on 'new economic growth' extracted from non-residential property development) to fund public services, economic development and urban regeneration. Opportunities for greater territorial governance and economic development often frame fiscal decentralisation, yet, critical appraisals of this agenda are less common. Reflecting upon this issue, this paper critically appraises the underlying method of 'localist' finance in England, the Business Rate Retention Scheme (BRRS). In doing so, it describes a picture of geographical variegation in England, one that suggests that the BRRS could lead to splintered urban development, based on the necessity (and underlying viability) for new development. The paper concludes that a minority of 'premium locations,' characterised by buoyant property market characteristics, could outperform more numerous 'stranded' and 'redundant locations.' The result is that those areas most in need of investment, that exhibit some kind of market failure and geographical disadvantage, could be less able to generate new development in order to fund the BRRS. Under these conditions, rather than correcting incidences of spatial inequality, fiscal decentralisation could further polarise uneven development.
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