Five questions answered on new fracking tax incentive for councils

Why is the government offering an incentive for fracking?

The government today announced that local councils will receive a higher percentage of fracking business rates revenues. We answer five questions on this new fracking incentive. 

What exactly is the government offering councils that support fracking?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that English local authority councils will receive 100 per cent of the business rates received from fracking companies, instead of the usual 50 per cent. Normally the other 50 per cent would go to central government.

Why is the government offering this incentive for fracking?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing - its official name - is the process of drilling deep underground using high pressure and a mix of chemicals, water and sand to crack rocks and release the gas inside.

There has been much opposition against fracking in the UK, with protests regularly making the headlines. Those against the technique believe fracking could cause small earth tremors or contaminate water.

This latest tax incentive is designed to encourage councils to approve fracking in spite of local objections.

How much could local authorities reap from this new fracking tax law?

Government officials say the new business rate commitment would mean councils would keep up to £1.7m extra a year from each fracking site.

This is on top of a pledge by industry to give communities £100,000 for test drilling and a further one per cent of the revenues if shale is discovered.

This one per cent levy could provide "£10m per wellhead" according to Energy Minister Michael Fallon.

What else has the government said?

Cameron said:

A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure. That's why we're going all-out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country.

Fallon told Radio 4's Today programme:

We want local councils and local people to benefit from this exploration. We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled in exploration over the next couple of years and I think it's very important that local communities see some of the benefit.

What have others said?

Jane Thomas, Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner, said in a statement:

"This latest Government move highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to overcome it.

“People are right to be concerned about the impact of shale gas extraction on their communities - especially as experts say it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.

"This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place.”

Labour shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, speaking to the BBC, said: "Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix.”

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, told the BBC: "One percent of gross revenues distributed locally is not good enough; returns should be more in line with payments across the rest of the world and be set at 10 per cent.

"The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people."

Fracking continues to be a contentious practice in the UK. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.