Businesses need reassurance of full rates reform

James MacKessack-Leitch

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT are still facing a major backlash over the revaluation of business rates as hundreds of firms insist the burden is still too heavy.

This week the SNP government finally backed down from saying they could do nothing to help firms facing “catastrophic” increases by capping those for such as pubs and hotels to 12.5% in the first year, rather than the 200%+ demands they were facing.

In addition, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay provided the same temporary relief for other businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire who had been hardest hit by the downturn in the North Sea Oil and Gas industry.

However, a study has shown that in percentage terms more businesses in Moray had been hit with increases in their bills than in Aberdeenshire – while Moray also has over 1700 businesses who will not receive any relief against their increasing rates bill.

Now Moray Greens convenor James MacKessack-Leitch is echoing a call from his Holyrood colleagues for a proper discussion and scrutiny of a revamp of the entire non-domestic rates system.

Andy Wightman MSP, Local Government spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, made the call at a meeting of Holyrood’s Local Government Committee, proposed annulling the 2017 Non-Domestic Rates Order to prompt an explanation from the Finance Secretary about how rates are decided – and urging a future parliamentary debate on the issue.

Mr Wightman said: “Proper scrutiny of non-domestic rates, which generate almost £3billion a year for council services, has long been needed. It’s extraordinary that it took the prospect of annulment to prompt today’s discussion at committee, and I look forward to a wider debate in Parliament once the Barclay Review is complete.”

He added that the question that should be asked is if business rates are fit for purpose at all – and that the issue should be part of the ongoing discussion about reform of taxation, adding: “How businesses are taxed should be a fundamental tool that local councils can use to respond to local needs.”

Mr MacKessack-Leitch, who is a candidate in the Heldon & Laich ward in May’s council elections in Moray, commented: “Rather than get involved in the grandstanding and point-scoring over the non-domestic rates issue, my colleagues in parliament have been taking positive action gain real scrutiny of the issue so that in future this sort of mess doesn’t occur again.

“While Business Rates, and its sister Council Tax, are clearly not fit for purpose, I hope that in future politicians locally and nationally will take this opportunity to provide real and constructive scrutiny on local taxation.

“In the meantime we all need to do more to support our local businesses so that they not just remain the cornerstone of our local economy, but have the opportunity to flourish.”