Council rates call under fire

Plan to give power to local authorities slammed


TRADE groups have expressed “profound concerns” at plans to give local authorities more power over business rates.

Representatives from three groups met with Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay last week to highlight their concerns, less than a week after an amendment was added to the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill by the Local Government and Communities Committee, which would give councils the ability to use the rates set by Holyrood or to set their own.

The meeting was attended by representatives from UK Hospitality, FSB Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium.

In a joint statement after the meeting the groups said: “The meeting with the finance secretary was a useful opportunity to highlight our profound concerns after last week’s vote in parliament to scrap the uniform business rate.

“Taking business rates out of the hands of ministers and handing control over this £2.8 billion tax to councils places a big question mark over existing Scotland-wide rates reliefs, such as the Small Business Bonus scheme.

“Firms fear this move could lead to higher business rates bills for both large and small organisations, at a time when the poundage rate is at a 20-year high.

“It remains unclear too what this change would mean for the finances of rural and less well-off local authorities and therefore ultimately for rates bills in these areas.

“The lack of any impact assessment to accompany this fundamental change in rates policy and what it will mean for ratepayers, for existing reliefs, and for councils themselves, is troubling.

“MSPs must revisit this amendment to the law at the earliest opportunity.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which has also campaigned extensively for reform of the rates system, has also spoken out against the amendment.

A statement from the group said the move “will raise grave concerns for all Scottish businesses”.

“The SLTA is deeply concerned that if this change is brought in and the rating system is overseen by 32 unitary local authority councils, the outcome across the country will be disastrous for all businesses, and the problems of inconsistencies of approach and vagaries already experienced by the licensed trade will be exacerbated,” said the association.

The Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill was drawn up earlier this year, based on recommendations from the Barclay review group. It is currently working its way through the parliament.

The amendment to allow local authorities more power over rates was introduced by Green MSP Andy Wightman and supported by the Labour and Conservative members of the committee.