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Appeal from minister

Forbes backs rates lobby and urges MSPs to reject council switch

Kate Forbes, SNP digital minister

Kate Forbes: ‘unequivocal support’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes has pledged the SNP’s commitment to retaining the uniform business rate and urged other parties to drop their call for rates to be put under the control of local authorities.

Replying to a letter signed by 27 business trade groups letter she echoed concerns that devolving control of the £2.8 billion tax to 32 town halls would create risk and uncertainty for both ratepayers and local authorities.

A vote is expected on an amendment to the the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill in the next few weeks proposed by Green MSP Andy Wightman. It would allow local authorities to set their own poundage rate, rates reliefs, and any supplements or surcharges.

In an unprecedented show of unity, business groups such as the FSB, Scottish Retail Consortium and Scottish Engineering want the amendment overturned.

“We fear this could lead to higher business rates bills, at a time when the poundage rate is already at a 20-year high and with a further increase pencilled in for this Spring, and when businesses want to invest and grow the Scottish economy,” says the letter.

Ms Forbes has responded tonight with an assurance that the Scottish Government supports their demands.

She says the Bill was introduced to support growth, improve the administration of the system and increase fairness as envisaged by the Barclay Review of business rates.

“I am writing to confirm the Scottish Government’s unequivocal support for the Uniform Business Rate,” she says. “The Scottish Government shares your collective view that the amendment supported by Opposition MSPs at Stage 2 introduces complexity, risks and potential unpredictability into the rates system.

“Non-domestic rates play an integrated role in the current wider local government finance arrangements by providing certainty and protection to local government funding whilst also ensuring certainty for ratepayers across Scotland.

I can reassure you all that we will not be supporting any amendments that continue to threaten the Uniform Business Rate

– Kate Forbes, Minister

“I have previously written to the Local Government and Communities Committee after the Conservative, Labour and Green MSPs united to support Andy Wightman’s amendment.”

She adds: “All MSPs will have an opportunity at Stage 3 of the Bill to respond directly and immediately to the concerns of Scottish business. In the meantime I will continue to liaise with my parliamentary colleagues to persuade them of the critical need to listen to those concerns and reverse this unwelcome amendment.

“For the Scottish Government’s part, I can reassure you all that we will not be supporting any amendments that continue to threaten the Uniform Business Rate, jeopardise the Scottish Government’s ability to set reliefs in subordinate legislation or undermine Local Government funding mechanisms.

“I have also written to spokespeople in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties to ask them to support the Scottish Government in retaining the Uniform Business Rate.”

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