Businesses cheer as no rates to pay for next year
Kate Forbes: extra support
Shops, pubs, tourism and aviation businesses have been handed a huge lifeline after Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes confirmed they will pay no business rates for the 2021-22 financial year.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, described it as a “bold and significant move and a vital shot in the arm” for retailers.
“The business rates waiver has been a lifeline for the retail industry, much of which has had to cease trading three times so far during the pandemic whilst at the same time investing significantly in Covid safety measures.
“Scrapping business rates for the coming year provides a much-needed cashflow and confidence boost for the industry – Scotland’s largest private sector employer – as it hopefully emerges from lockdown and seeks to recover.”
Ms Forbes announced the new support following receipt of a further £1.1 billion of consequential funding from Westminster.
The minister had already announced a three month rates relief extension in the Scottish Budget.
Newspapers will also continue to benefit from 100% relief for a further 12 months, while charitable rates relief will not be removed from mainstream independent schools until 1 April 2022 due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
Ms Forbes said: “When I presented our budget last month I guaranteed to extend non-domestic rates relief further if I was given the necessary resources. I can now deliver on that promise, providing the UK Budget in March delivers the funding we require.
“The other measures I am proposing today, including further support for hospitals, schools and local government and measures to tackle climate change, build on our priorities to ensure a robust recovery for our economy and public services.”
Pubs and tourism businesses will be among those to benefit (pic: Terry Murden)
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scotland policy chairman, said: “Extending rate relief for the next financial year will allow many more smaller firms to make it through to the end of this crisis and help them get back on their feet when the economy re-opens.
“Should many bigger businesses choose not to take up this tax break, we’d like to see the money saved spent on measures to give local and independent businesses a shot-in-the-arm.”
However, businesses were disappointed that no reopening date has been set.
Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: “Businesses will hope next week’s Strategic Framework brings much needed clarity and transparency about the weeks and months ahead. This should be driven by data and developed in dialogue with business. “
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “Since the First Minister’s announcement this afternoon, we have had an influx of correspondence from tourism businesses extremely anxious at the First Minister’s indication that an Easter reopening is highly unlikely and that a question mark has been placed over domestic travel this summer.
“The STA Board will meet with the First Minister in the coming weeks and take the opportunity to update Ms Sturgeon on the desperate state that the industry is in.
“On a positive note, I know that our industry is breathing a huge sigh of relief as a result of the Finance Secretary’s announcement that she will extend 100% business rates relief to the sector for another year.”
David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, said the rates relief was a positive move but landlords are concerned about a lack of action on empty properties.
“We remain disappointed that nothing has been done to address the unfair burden of empty property rates on commercial properties that cannot be occupied due to the current restrictions and market failure in the face of the greatest economic downturn we have seen in centuries.”
No help for empty properties (pic: Terry Murden)
Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser said: “At long last, the SNP have relented and u-turned on extending business rates relief.
“Businesses have again been treated as an afterthought by the SNP and left waiting on a decision that should have been made weeks ago, considering this was already the biggest ever Scottish Budget.
“This u-turn is better late than never. It will give businesses some welcome breathing space while they wait for business support to finally reach them from the SNP.”
The Finance Secretary also announced that two funds to support people whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic are now open to applications
Grants will be available for mobile and home-based close contact service businesses – such as make-up artists and hairdressers – as well as registered driving instructors.
The Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund, which paid out more than £11 million in vital support last year, will also re-open for a second round.
Both funds will provide £4,000 grants to successful applicants. Full eligibility details are available online.
Phased reopening of schools
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that a phased reopening of classrooms will begin from 22 February.
Pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 3 will be allowed back into school first, as will those in the senior phase of secondary school.
All children under school age in early learning and childcare will also return.
Ms Sturgeon said further returns to school would not happen before 15 March.
Senior phase pupils, teachers and school staff will be given lateral flow testing twice a week from next week.
The Scottish Government hopes to produce a new road map out of lockdown next week, Ms Sturgeon added.
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