Rishi Sunak is reported today to be wary of a new property tax to replace council tax. No wonder. Even Kevin Hollinrake, a supporter of such a scheme, conceded while making the case for it on this site that replacing council tax would be “no walk in the park”.
One of the main reasons for this is that introducing a new tax would make no sense were this not accompanied by a revaluation. Beware, all ye who enter here. A revaluation is at both overdue (council tax is based on 1991 valuations) and politically perilous. Which explains why it remains overdue.
So unpopular was the revaluation in Scotland during the mid-1980s that a bright idea was dreamed up to replace rates altogether: the poll tax. Like most schemes in which winners quietly pocket their gains and losers noisily protest, that didn’t end well.
The winners in this particular case would be, broadly speaking, provincial England and the loser – equally broadly – the greater South-East. Perhaps this is a trade-off that the Boris Johnson and the Chancellor will eventually be willing to make.
The other half of Hollinrake plan (it is also being punted by the charity Fairer Share) would presumably sugar the pill – though admittedly not for people in larger houses who are staying put. It is to scrap stamp duty altogether, which would give the property market a filip. WPI Economics has been crunching the numbers.
As it happens, the firm has also been looking at the other side of the property tax coin: business rates. It published a report last year which recommended reducing business rates to a fixed, 40 per cent tax rate for retail. Simon Fell, MP for Barrow & Furness, has argued on ConservativeHome for a permanent cut.
Which indicates the sort of seat that would be likely to gain most from such a change: the WPI report argued that “shops in the North and Midlands face a higher burden than those in the South”. The Treasury is known to have clocked the report’s proposal.
Sunak’s March Budget will be the first post-Brexit Budget proper, now that transition has ended. Is the Chancellor is weighing up a grand bargain that would see lower business rates in the provinces traded off against higher property taxes in the home counties?
The snag with any tax-cutting plan is that we are moving towards tax-hiking times – if not this year, then later in the Parliament. At least, we will be even if Sunak goes for growth, which he certainly should do, and it turns out not to be forthcoming.