Fracking and local government

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Even though I am an old cynic, I was still a bit taken aback by David Cameron’s announcement of “incentives” (“bribe”, in my opinion) for local communities who welcome fracking in their area.

The headline-grabbing information was that councils could keep 100% of the business rates they collect from consented sites for shale gas developments. The Government claimed that this “represents double the current figure and could be worth up to £1.7m a year for a typical site”.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, quite a lot actually.

Views on fracking differ enormously. Personally, I don’t think the case made for fracking stacks up.

In fact, a recent report from BP (hardly eco-warriors!) admits that fracking will not reduce CO2 emissions as claimed: And Lord Browne, former Chief Executive of BP, has also denied that fracking will reduce energy prices:

So bang go the two major arguments put forward to support fracking, which of course has been banned in France.

But don’t these “incentives” have risks?

First of all, as usual it suits Government to force the difficult decisions on fracking onto local councils. So local councils unsurprisingly want to be compensated. Previously, fracking companies offered local communities a £100,000 gift, together with 1% of revenues if shale gas is discovered. The LGA warned that this was “not enough”.

Tony Travers, writing in LGC, warned that the Government “incentive” might not be what it seems. What is to stop Government from “top slicing” them after a year or so from the grant Councils receive, as they have done on other budget areas?

Don’t these “incentives undermine the role of Councils?

But perhaps most importantly, the “incentive” raises serious questions about conflicts of interest for councils. Can local people have confidence that planning decisions and environmental health considerations on fracking are being considered impartially, if the Council is being bribed?

Won’t this cynically undermine public confidence in the fairness of council decision-making? Isn’t this in fact just another attack on local democracy, dressed up as “localism”?

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