Growing storm over business rates as Salmond enters debate

John Cowe – speaking out for Moray businesses against the excesses of revaluation.

THE ADMISSION BY Moray’s MSP reported by insideMoray on Saturday over the worries being faced by local businesses has provoked extensive condemnation of the entire revaluation process.

Following the meeting of the Lossiemouth Business Association attended by Richard Lochhead last week, the MSP said that he would write to the Grampian Valuation Joint Board and ask that they put a ‘fast tracking’ appeals process in place.

Currently, it is expected that any business appealing increases – that in many cases will cost them over 200% more than they are presently paying – would take around three years to reach a conclusion, during which time businesses would be expected to pay the new rate.

At the weekend it emerged that the SNP’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond, also voiced sympathy with businesses, many of whom say they may go to the wall if forced to pay the additional taxation.

Mr Salmond, who is now the MP for Gordon, said: “Of course there is an argument against some of the business rates rises. Of course, people are feeling the hard edge of it and in the north east there is a very legitimate case because of the date of estimation [made when the economy was much stronger].”

Moray Council chair of the Economic Development and Infrastructure Services Committee, John Cowe, spoke out against Mr Lochhead on the insideMoray social media page.

He said: “On the 1st of February Mr Lochhead was sent a written invitation to the Chamber of Commerce NDR meeting. On the 10th, he was verbally updated on the event by the Chamber and, subsequent to that, he was emailed details by Darren from Pinz Bowling [one of the Moray firms facing a significant increase].

“He did not attend the event but did attend a meeting with the Lossiemouth Business Association that afternoon, where he was asked why he did not attend the C of C meeting that morning – he said he knew nothing about it.”

However, Royce Clark, owner of Grampian Furnishings who business faces a 40% increase, revealed that he had put the idea of a ‘fast tracking’ of appeals to Mr Lochhead, saying: “Glad to hear Richard has taken on board my suggestion that he press the Scottish parliament as a matter of urgency for a fast track appeals process – as without this many businesses will go out of business long before December 2020 which is the current timescale for any rates appeal.”

Little faith is being held in the process by Councillor Cowe, who said: “You will have heard the assessor, in answer to that question on Thursday morning that the success rate of appeals is 2.96%!

“Doesn’t give much hope does it? Cancel the new rates until the Barclay report in July then rethink the whole situation.”

Following the comments by Mr Salmond a Scottish Government spokesman said that there was no disagreement between the former First Minister and his former Scottish Cabinet colleagues, adding that the finance secretary had already agreed with councils on schemes to support businesses.

That related to deals with Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils, however, insideMoray understands that no such deal had been reached with the Moray Council, which was called upon last week by SNP opposition members to look into a local transitional relief scheme.