Law, like rust, never sleeps

With all eyes focussed on the Agriculture and Environment Bills it would be easy to miss other significant developments in this Parliament.  For example the Queen’s Speech promised:

  • An Employment Bill which will make flexible working the default arrangement for all workers.  Further consultation was promised, but the arrival of Covid 19 may add to the urgency of measures like this.
  • A Renters’ Reform Bill which will end section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and introduce ‘lifetime deposits’
  • A Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will provide for new ‘no fault’ joint applications.
  • A Police Powers and Protection Bill will define criminal trespass more widely and give the police greater power to deal with unauthorised encampments.
  • We are also promised modern Mayors in more areas.  Experience from areas like Greater Manchester suggest that this might lead to more ‘joined up’ local government, with mayors taking over responsibility for health budgets in their areas for example.
  • A private member’s bill introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Lytton would provide a statutory framework for dealing with boundary disputes, with the RICS given a role in preparing and maintaining a statutory Code of Practice.

Yesterday’s Budget saw the government’s plans on Infrastructure Spending formalised, as well as the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund – although confusion remains over whether it is intended to plant 40 million trees, 35,000 ha of trees in one year or over six years, or just afforest Birmingham (or at least an area the size of Birmingham).

The rating system will also be under review again this year.  It now appears that fewer than 60% of all properties with a rateable value are actually paying rates because of the combined effects of various reliefs, and this Budget has seen the introduction of a 2% digital tax on online sales in the UK, presumably as part of an attempt to level the differences between high street and online retailers.   The rates still bring in a substantial income but it is perhaps past the time when we should be looking at the tax advantages of a tax which, while hard to avoid, also seems to be complicated and costly to administer especially when so many properties must be valued only to pay no tax.  With the expected boom in infrastructure work this could free a considerable amount of valuation expertise to deal with compulsory purchase instead, where a shortage of suitable expertise has long been acknowledged.  Not least due to the historical organisation of the Valuation Office Agency, expertise in both areas of practice is often found in the same valuers.

#RuBrief returns tomorrow with a legal update for rural professional practice, online 09.30 to 11.00 (GMT).  It’s not too late to book if you have not secured a place already and all tomorrow’s participants will also be receiving a discount code for the online Woodland Creation Conference being organised by the Ecosystem Knowledge Network for 25 March.  Booking is via Eventbrite:  Season tickets for the year are still available too, and these give you access to the recording of  January’s session on compulsory purchase and compensation if you missed it.

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