The Government’s Localism Bill is a missed opportunity, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The Bill, which is now entering its report stage, is intended to switch power back from central government to local communities.
However, the FSB has accused the legislation of not taking into proper account the part that businesses have to play in their localities.
The FSB is concerned that the neighbourhood planning proposals do not adequately provide for local business involvement.
There should also, in the view of the FSB, be a greater recognition of the value that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have to offer. 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, the business group argued.
The FSB expressed worries, too, 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 described the proposal as “confusing” and that, far from preserving local assets, it would, in fact, be more likely to put a small business owner at risk.
This is because the change would blur the distinction between a functioning business, which provides the service and is therefore the true asset, and a property. Restricting the sale of a property to give the community the time to bid for it would not necessarily preserve the business itself, the FSB claimed, but just delay the actual sale of the property and potentially threaten a viable private sale.
John Walker, the FSB’s national chairman, commented: “The aims of the Localism Bill are clear, but there are many issues that need to be addressed while it is still being debated and before it is enshrined in law.
“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.”
Mr Walker went on to say that it 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.
He added: “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.”