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Swinney ‘short-changing’ struggling businesses

Liz Smith
Liz Smith: ‘John Swinney failed to match relief offered elsewhere in UK’

John Swinney has been accused of failing to echo Westminster’s support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses by not extending business rates relief.

As a result of the acting Finance Secretary’s inaction more than 100,000 Scottish business properties will be ‘short-changed’ compared to their counterparts in England and Wales, say the Scottish Tories.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his Autumn Statement that these sectors would receive business rates relief for another year and it was increased from 50% to 75% of their rates bill. The Welsh Government mirrored this scheme on Monday.

Shadow finance and economy secretary Liz Smith said the SNP failed to commit to any specific sector relief for the 2023/24 financial year having also ended this scheme for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in June 2022.

The Scottish Grocers Federation have hit out at the lack of support, saying plans to cut the 100% business rates relief rateable value threshold from £15,000 to £12,000 will hit small retailers badly.

The Fraser of Allander Institute also accused John Swinney’s Budget of taking a “hardline” approach towards business.

FSB Scotland policy chair, Andrew McRae, said: “We urged the Government to freeze the percentage at which businesses pay their rates, so we’re pleased they’ve listened.

“That said, we had hoped the Scottish Government would have agreed specific relief for those sectors – like retail, hospitality and leisure – who were hardest hit by Covid and are now in the eye of the energy price storm. We’ll continue to make that case.”


Ms Smith also welcomed the freeze in the basic rates of business rates, but said the lack of specific support for these sectors will have a “potentially devastating impact” on businesses that are grappling with the cost-of-living crisis.

She added that these businesses are the “backbone of Scotland’s communities” and that they cannot be disadvantaged compared to businesses in England and Wales.

The extension of the scheme in England cost the Treasury £2.3 billion meaning John Swinney would have had £222 million worth of Barnett Consequentials to support these sectors.

Ms Smith said: “Not only did the SNP end specific rate relief for retail, hospitality and leisure business in June, the Budget now offers them no support at all compared to their counterparts in England and Wales.

“This is a hammer blow in the run-up to the busy festive trading period and as businesses continue to grapple with a cost-of-living crisis and the effects of the Covid pandemic.

“The lack of rate relief support will have a potentially devastating impact on many of our small businesses who form the backbone of our high streets and communities across Scotland.

“Both Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Welsh Government in recent weeks have stepped up and outlined an extension of the rates relief scheme in England and Wales, so why did John Swinney not follow suit?

“It is little wonder the Fraser of Allander Institute have described John Swinney as taking a hardline approach, when he has short-changed over 100,000 Scottish businesses.

“Jobs and economic growth are on the line if the interim Finance Secretary does not use the record funding grant he has at his disposal from the UK Government to offer urgent support to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.”

In his Budget statement, Mr Swinney froze business rates “to ensure Scotland has the lowest poundage in the United Kingdom for the fifth year in a row and is forecast to save business tax ratepayers £308 million compared to an inflationary increase.

He added: “We will reform and extend the Small Business Bonus Scheme to improve the progressivity of the relief whilst ensuring that it remains the most generous small business relief in the United Kingdom and delivers the manifesto commitment that 100,000 properties will be taken out of rates altogether.

“By introducing transitional reliefs we will help to ensure those properties that see their rates liabilities increase significantly following the revaluation to do so in a phased manner.”

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