Ministers write to Tory MPs in bid to avert business rates rebellion

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Senior ministers have written to Tory MPs in an attempt to stave off a rebellion over the business rates revaluation.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid and Treasury Chief Secretary David Gauke said there had been "a "relentless campaign of distortions and half-truths" about the move.

They insisted that most firms will not see any rise in their bills.

But The Times reported that a list attached to the email sent to MPs revealed many of the areas facing rate rises are in Tory heartlands, with the Home Counties facing some of the biggest increases.

The newspaper said rates in Theresa May's Maidenhead constituency will rise by an average 10%. Chancellor Philip Hammond's Runnymede seat in Surrey will see increases of about 13%.

The private letter to MPs said: "This year's revaluation has been preceded by a series of reports claiming that rates are going to soar, that appeals are being banned and that hundreds of thousands of businesses will be forced to close.

"Such claims are simply untrue."

The ministers said 2017-18 "will see the biggest ever cut in business rates" and "three-quarters of all businesses, right across the country, will see their rates either fall or stay the same".

They said the "misinformation circulating in the news" meant it was "understandable that business owners and lobby groups have raised concerns with many of you", but they insisted the changes coming into effect in April were "not something to be afraid of".

But the newspaper quoted one senior MP as saying the letter was "completely counter-productive" while another predicted Mr Hammond would face "backbench Tory pressure" to climb down.

Senior Tory MP Mark Field, who represents the Cities of London and Westminster, told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour he believed Mr Hammond would "tweak" the planned revaluation.

Mr Field, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "I'm very confident that he is in listening mode and 'tweak' is the right word.

"I think my own central London constituency probably is, in fairness, one of the minority of areas that lose out.

"But it will lose out and that particularly applies to small, independent retailers and the hospitality operators."

He said most firms facing rises wanted a "smoother transition period" because "some of these very hefty increases will come in, effectively, over the next two or three years and that doesn't give time for businesses who are affected by the increase to either adapt or plan in full".

Mr Field said the change was meant to be revenue neutral but "now it's apparent there will be a little more money and that provides the Treasury with a little bit of wriggle room".

He said he wanted ministers to "smooth things out a little bit" and have "some sort of cap in place" lower than the present "colossal" 42% limit on rises.

The issue is likely to be raised with Mr Hammond when he addresses the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tories in Parliament, Mr Field said.