Think tank challenged

Retail chief alarmed at business rates proposal

David Lonsdale
David Lonsdale: plan was previously rejected (pic: Terry Murden)

A retail leader has expressed alarm at a think tank’s recommendation that business rates are devolved to local authorities.

Reform Scotland has called on politicians from across the political spectrum to endorse the creation of an elected mayoralty in every Scottish local authority, accompanied by full devolution of local taxes, including business rates.

Its new paper Localising Power: A little less conversation, a little more action, says the proposed changes would create more transparent and vibrant democracy as well as drive local economies.

It also calls for the full devolution of council tax and business rates to local authorities, in addition to offering them the ability to create and set new taxes.

But David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “This was debated and voted on by MSPs shortly before the onset of the pandemic back in February 2020.”

At that time a joint letter opposing the devolution of business rates to the 32 Scottish local authorities was signed by 27 business groups.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent report for the Labour Party, “A New Britain”, is the latest document to back localisation.

Alison Payne, Reform Scotland’s research director and an author of the think tank’s paper, said: “Scotland is far too centralised and needs to see a shift in power from Holyrood to local authorities.

“Although councils run many of the services that are most important to our everyday lives, few of us know who is in charge and who we should be holding accountable. Scotland is unusual internationally in the weakness of its local authorities.

“Gordon Brown’s intervention is the latest in a long list, but we need to start seeing action rather than simply words. In this case, it should start with Anas Sarwar confirming that Scottish Labour will campaign at the next Scottish Parliament election on a pledge to introduce them.”

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