By Dave Hunter
A COALITION of trade groups will visit Holyrood next week to meet with finance minister Derek Mackay on the subject of business rates.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) and British Hospitality Association (BHA) will meet Mackay and cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work Keith Brown on February 22.
Speaking to SLTN, BHA executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod, said the group will argue for any increase in business rates to be delayed until after the Barclay group – set up to review the rates system – reports to Scottish ministers in July.
“We would certainly be asking for the new revaluations to be held off until Barclay reports,” said Macleod.
“And ideally we would like a review of the assessors’ process before Barclay (reports).
“I think we would like the process to be reviewed and the range and extent of increases reviewed, because the new increases will be in place and businesses will be expected to pay them before Barclay reports.
“They’ll have to pay the new increases even if they’ve lodged an appeal. I fear some, and even many, businesses paying the new level of rates will be unsustainable even pending an appeal or pending Barclay.”
The appointment comes after STA chief executive Marc Crothall wrote to first minister Nicola Sturgeon requesting a meeting on rates and imploring her to “urgently review this situation and intervene”.
An STA spokeswoman told SLTN that the trade group has been approached by more than one hundred business owners “with some very worrying news about how the business rates increase will impact their business”.
“This is the single most important issue our industry has faced,” she added.
The STA, BHA and SLTA aren’t the only trade groups lobbying the Scottish Government on business rates.
Unight, a group representing the late-night industry in Aberdeen, has launched a new campaign, titled Overrated, encouraging businesses across the north east to provide details of their rates increases.
The case studies, submitted through the campaign website (over-rated.co.uk) are then forwarded digitally to Sturgeon and Mackay’s offices.
The organisation’s Stuart McPhee described the rates system as “a whole series of flawed programmes and flawed systems that are leading us to a big problem”.
The Fife Licensed Trade Association has also written to the first minister.
And Glasgow Restaurant Association chair Ryan James said he doesn’t think the issue is being taken seriously enough by the Scottish Parliament.
“If [Holyrood] would just give us support rather than hammering us then [licensed] businesses would be a major influencer in driving traffic to our cities,” said James.
“But at the moment it’s just a scene of massive depression, because people just can’t see a way through it.”
Former justice secretary Kenny McAskill has also called on Holyrood to intervene.
Writing in The Scotsman, he said there is “no simple fix, but if the Scottish Government addressed the current rates rise crisis, that would be a start”.