Trade welcomes Tory fee pledge

Party commits to extend rural business rates relief

ELECTORAL pledges by the Scottish Conservatives to investigate the way licence feees are calculated and extend rates relief for rural pubs and hotels have been welcomed by trade leaders.
The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems unveiled their plans for licensing, alcohol and the tourism industry last week in their manifestos for the Scottish elections on May 5. With the SNP still to outline its electoral commitments by the time SLTN went to press, it was the Tory proposals that received the most encouraging response.
The party said it would make good on a recommendation by the Regulatory Review Group last year to “investigate moving to a system of alcohol premises licences where the fees are related to alcohol turnover” – instead of rateable values.
It also pledged to “extend the scope of the small business rates relief scheme over the life of the parliament as the public finances allow”, as well as expand “the rural business rates relief which help protect rural post offices, pubs, hotels and petrol stations”.
SBPA boss Patrick Browne said the Tory manifesto was “the one that’s potentially the most beneficial to the trade”.
“It’s encouraging that they have picked out two very important issues for the trade going forward,” he told SLTN.
SLTA chief Paul Waterson said he hoped the licence fee methodology would be looked at whichever party comes to power, though he conceded a system based on turnover was unlikely to receive universal support.
“Certainly, people who are making a lot of money from selling alcohol should pay more in fees than those who aren’t – that’s obvious,” he said.
Labour’s commitment to review business rates more often than the current five years, backed by transitional relief, was the most welcome in an otherwise disappointing manifesto. The move could help ensure the rates faced by pubs more accurately reflect prevailing economic conditions.
Browne said he saw the appeal but is concerned it would bring a “higher administrative cost”. “Yes, having more regular valuations might be useful,” he said. “A bigger issue last time around [2010 revaluation] was probably the lack of transitional relief.”
A call by the Lib Dems to scrap VisitScotland and Scottish Development International and replace them with a new body promoting all Scottish industry failed to win the support of either trade group.