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MSP warns small businesses could face paying £20 million more in rates if Bill passes Holyrood

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Kate Forbes and the FSB's David Richardson during an earlier campaign.
MSP Kate Forbes and the FSB's David Richardson during an earlier campaign.

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes has upped the ante over devolving powers to set non-domestic rates to local authorities – a move she says could cost Highland business as much as £20 million a year.

The Dingwall-based politician has lodged an amendment aiming to protect reliefs like the small business bonus scheme, reinstate the uniform business rate, and protect funding for local authorities.

Earlier, Miss Forbes called on her fellow Highland MSPs to “support Highland businesses ahead of the crucial rates scheme vote” which is due to come before parliament next week.

She fears Highland businesses could lose almost £20 million of relief under the plan but as the SNP is a minority government if they were joined by enough rebels from other parties that could be averted.

Labour and Conservative MSPs on the local government and communities committee voted for a Green MSP Andy Wightman’s amendment to the Non-Domestic Rates Bill removing the ability of Scottish Ministers to set the business rates poundage.

The effect is that rates would no longer be set nationally and business rates reliefs – including the Small Business Bonus and rates relief for hydro schemes, mobile masts, fibre broadband and nurseries – would automatically end.

Miss Forbes said: “Next week, I will vote to protect thousands of Highland businesses by voting against this amendment which jeopardises reliefs like the small business bonus scheme.

“I was amazed to see the Labour Party and Conservatives supporting an initiative which is so utterly opposed by the vast majority of small businesses, which are the backbone of the Highland economy.

“Small businesses across the Highlands need more support, not less. We know that businesses in the Highlands already face higher costs due to the delivery charges, transport and fuel costs.

“Almost 11,000 businesses in the Highlands benefit from the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus. That would disappear, alongside other reliefs affecting including support for nurseries, under the proposals being forced through by opposition parties.”

The Federation of Small Businesses, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium have all condemned the impact of the proposed changes, warning it will create added costs and deter investment.

FSB development manager for the Highlands & Islands, David Richardson, said: “As many as 10,960 small Highland businesses could potentially find themselves paying Highland Council £19 million a year collectively, and some more than £7,000 individually.

“Amendments passed at Stage 2 of the Scottish Government’s Non-Domestic Rates Bill in December will, if they become law, empower Scotland’s 32 local authorities to set their own business rates.”

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