Call to modernise system
Strip out red tape and go digital in rates reform, says FSB
Andrew McRae: ‘the rates system is bureaucratic and old-fashioned’
A small business campaign group has urged the Scottish government to introduce more digital technology and strip out red tape or risk undermining the planned reform of business rates.
The Federation of Small Businesses warns the Scottish Government that the delivery of a user-friendly tax system looks unlikely without modernising its payment and processing systems.
Andrew McRae, the FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “Tens of thousands of Scottish smaller firms get a leg up thanks to the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus scheme.
“But even those in receipt of this help can find the rates system bureaucratic and old-fashioned.
“We urged ministers to introduce more frequent revaluations, so that firms’ bills better reflect market conditions. But for that to work, we need the system to purr, rather than creak.
“In our view, a more modern system would pay dividends for both the taxpayer and the state.”
The next business rates revaluation in Scotland will take place in 2022. FSB has urged Ministers to deliver a modern rates system a year ahead of the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.
Mr McRae said: “What we’ll need to see alongside these new laws are Ministers dragging the system into the 21st century.
“That means a new national digital interface to pay your bill and apply for help. That means bodies involved in the system working in harmony. That means the provision of intelligible information about how your bill is calculated to ratepayers.”
In its submission on the proposed rates reforms, the FSB argues that a new digital rates interface could integrate with the Scottish planning and licensing systems.
Further, the small business body strongly supports Scottish Government moves to introduce new rates help for firms renovating or improving property.
Mr McRae said: “Scottish Ministers have shown an appetite for reform with the introduction of their new Business Growth Accelerator.
“But they can’t stop there. While FSB supports many of these legislative changes, they must be matched with the grit to succeed.”
Labour calls for action on high streets
Labour yesterday called on the UK government to save Britain’s ‘dying’ high streets as new figures released by the party reveal 100,000 retail jobs have been lost in three years.
Among the measures the party is demanding is further reform to the business rates system to ease the burden on traditional high streets and town centres. Demands for more changes in England and Wales are likely to be echoed by the party in Scotland where business rates are devolved.
Rebecca Long Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, has called on the Government to consider:
• Establishing a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority, to make it easier to bring boarded up shops back into use
• Launching an inquiry into excessive car parking charges levied by private firms, to examine the benefits of promoting free parking in city centres
Research by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has revealed nearly a fifth of British retailers are planning to cut the number of people they employ in the next three months.
A report by PwC and the Local Data Company found that last year 4,000 high street shops opened and 5,800 closed, a net loss of 1,800. Currently 11.35% of shops are empty, and the Local Data Company has found that 52% of former BHS stores still lie empty two years after the final closure.
Research by XLN last year found nine in ten people would visit high streets more often if free parking was offered. A third of respondents picked expensive parking and the lack of free parking as their biggest high street frustrations.
The BRC has reported that 94% of people surveyed say they miss the community feel of their high street.
Ms Long Bailey said: “Our high streets are dying but the Government isn’t doing anything about it.
“Losing giants like House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer and New Look from town centres across the country is alarming.
“Our communities, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and our economy, both local and national, depend on thriving high streets. The Tories need to take action fast, before we become a nation of ghost towns.”