Westminster Diary: How many MPs backed business rates relief extension?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:26 15 March 2020
In anticipation of the first budget of this Parliament, MPs were busy lobbying the government with their own suggestions and issues. For me, that was business rates.
I have long campaigned alongside the Save the St Albans Pubs campaign to fix the broken business rates system that is hammering high streets up and down the country. Now, as the local MP, I decided to write a letter to the Chancellor and find MPs from across the political spectrum to add their support too.
With 650 MPs, it's unlikely that any one of us will ever know all the issues that everyone cares about let alone how they think it should be addressed. So I cast the net wide by emailing all 650 and waited to see who replied.
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Then I took a more targeted approach. I pulled together lists of every new MP that had mentioned business rates in their maiden speeches, every MP that spoke in a recent debate on the taxation of pubs (and beer), and every MP with a pub in their patch that had suffered an extraordinary increase in business rates, just like some of our landmark pubs here in St Albans.
Not all MPs are free to support an issue in this way. There are 100 or so MPs that are 'on the payroll' meaning they've been given roles in Government on condition that they don't side with other parties. One such Conservative MP apologised that he couldn't sign my letter but did indicate that there was nothing stopping him from sending the exact same letter in his own name!
Finally, I applied the personal touch: collaring specific individuals on their way out of the Chamber, going through security gates, or in the canteen queue.
The end result was that my letter proposing to extend business rates relief to save landmark pubs was signed by 40 MPs from six different parties. One of them had been a prominent member of the pro-Brexit 'Leave means Leave' group showing that the defence of a good local might transcend all divisions! By the time you're reading this, we'll know whether the Chancellor has been brought on side too.