I was lucky enough to be sat just three rows from George Osborne in the Manchester Convention Centre, when he announced in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference the devolving of business rates to local councils.
Welcome news – welcome because, dare I say it, the SNP in Holyrood in the wake of the Scotland Bill, South Tyneside Council will no longer be able to simply levy blame for local woes on “Tory cuts”.
Whereas local taxes were collected by HM Revenue and Customs then given back by the Treasury in the form of a grant (plus or minus the transfer of some funds from wealthier areas to poorer ones, which shall remain in place), now councils will simply keep those business rates but with the added bonus of being able to cut them should they wish.
For too long has the seeming managed decline of our town been blamed by the Labour-majority council of some 40 years on “Tory cuts”, making out that somehow those 52 poor Labour councillors are powerless to prevent the decay of our town.
Now, if the council wants more money to invest in new digital media centres or bus interchanges, it can raise the money itself by encouraging and supporting business to win jobs and create growth.
I await the news of how the council will do that. But I won’t hold my breath.