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CoSLA urging MSPs to reject business rates switch to councils

David Lonsdale

David Lonsdale: ‘profound unease’ (pic: Terry Murden)

CoSLA, the umbrella group for Scotland’s local authorities, is believed to have advised MSPs against supporting the devolution of business rates to councils in this week’s crucial vote at Holyrood.

The organisation is said to be urging restraint ahead of tomorrow’s vote on the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill, in lieu of what appears to be an agreement on wider forthcoming talks between CoSLA and Scottish Government on local government finance.

MSPs will consider an amendment from Green MSP Andy Wightman to transfer control of business rates to Scotland’s 32 councils. He says this would allow local decisions to be made to suit local circumstances and that it would bring Scotland into line with how businesses operate in Ejurope.

Business groups warn that it would not only create a more chaotic system, but that one unintended consequence would be the ending of the small business bonus scheme. Opposition to the amendment has come from 28 business groups and the Scottish Government.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “This is a significant intervention from CoSLA ahead of the parliamentary vote on Tuesday.

“Whilst we and CoSLA have completely differing views over retention of the Uniform Business Rate (UBR), we clearly share a profound unease that a tax change of this magnitude is being progressed in this way.

“The discussion and vote to end UBR at the Committee stage of the Bill had negligible consideration for the implications or for those affected, in stark contrast to the rigour and approach pursued through the Barclay Rates Review and subsequent Non-Domestic Rates Bill itself.

“It is startling and frankly utterly bewildering that we are on the cusp of MSPs voting for such a significant tax change without a proper consultation, economic analysis, or a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment.

“It’s a huge deficiency and raises serious doubts about the wisdom of making taxation changes of this magnitude in this way.”

The SNP has warned opposition parties against voting for an amendment to the Bill after new figures have revealed that 120,420 small businesses in Scotland have saved £1.79 billion through the Small Business Bonus Scheme since 2007-08. 

Ahead of a crucial vote on the NDR Bill tomorrow (Tuesday), it has been revealed that the estimated savings for 2019/20 will add a further £272 million to small businesses in Scotland.

The SNP was the only party which opposed an amendment to the Non Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill – which would mean that rates would no longer be set nationally and business rates reliefs, including the Small Business Bonus and rates relief for nurseries – would automatically end.

Labour and Conservative MSPs previously voted for a Mr Wightman’s amendment to the Bill – which could see some small businesses facing a rates hike of more than £7,000.

The last thing businesses in Scotland need is more chaos and uncertainty

Gillian Martin, SNP MSP

SNP MSP Gillian Martin said:  “More than 120,000 Scottish businesses saved nearly £300 million from Small Business Bonus Scheme relief this year – but those savings would disappear under the proposals being forced through by opposition parties.

“Ahead of a crucial vote at Holyrood tomorrow, this is the last chance for the Tories and Labour to listen to the concerns of industry and urgently back track on their support for these proposals.

“The last thing businesses in Scotland need is more chaos and uncertainty, when they’re already exposed to the risk of economic shock that Brexit could cause.

“The Scottish Government offers the most generous package of business rates reliefs anywhere in the UK, worth billions to business across the country.  

“It is now clear beyond doubt that the SNP is the only party standing up for Scotland’s businesses.” 

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