The campaign to see rate relief for empty commercial buildings reinstated has seen another senior politician embroiled.
Government chief whip Nick Brown has been criticised after claiming his north-east constituency should benefit from the relief while the south-east should not.
Brown’s comments could start a Cabinet war by undermining the Treasury and Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, who have espoused the benefits of the tax. Mandelson claimed it was ‘good for business’, despite vehement opposition from the CBI and Federation of Small Businesses, who have backed the high profile campaign by the British Property Federation.
Mandelson said: “I don’t think now is the time to bring back the business rate relief on empty properties, as I believe this can benefit small businesses.
“Landlords are more likely to bring down rental prices if they are looking to find new tenants quickly, which is good news for tenants.”
But Nick Brown has called the tax ‘destructive’, saying: “Although it may be appropriate in London and the south-east, these are completely different circumstances in the north-east, and I think the government could look at granting relief in the old industrial areas like we have here. We are in a position where people are pulling buildings down, which is an unintentional but destructive consequence of this, and the way to avert that is to grant relief.”
More than 120 MPs have signed Commons motions against empty rates, while the BPF is backing a petition on the No 10 website.
Liz Peace, BPF chief executive, said: “How can the government ignore the views of so many MPs, experts and real people? No one with a basic understanding of business supports this and it would be highly cynical to offer relief just to areas where the government may lose seats. That would cost them votes across the country.”
This week London mayor Boris Johnson met the government to call for action, while the Welsh Assembly has come out in favour of reintroducing relief. The Greater London Authority said Johnson “received an immediate response the government would look seriously at the issue of bringing back empty property rate relief.”
Johnson added: “I am determined to do everything in my power and will work with whoever it takes to help London.”