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Vote in Holyrood secures victory for those opposed to councils getting powers to set non domestic business rates


By Scott Maclennan


Kate Forbes MSP with David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesses.
Kate Forbes MSP with David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesses.

A crunch vote in Holyrood secured victory for those campaigning against allowing councils to set non domestic business rates.

At stake was close to £20 million in crucial business rates relief schemes that benefit almost 11,000 Highland businesses.

The vote last week delighted minister for public finance and Dingwall-based MSP Kate Forbes who alongside David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) had campaigned against the change.

But the U-turn by Conservative and Labour MSPs saw them vote against changes that would have removed the ability of Scottish ministers to set the business rates poundage.

Earlier MSPs from both parties on Holyrood’s local government and communities committee favoured an amendment to the Non-Domestic Rates Bill lodged by Green MSP Andy Wightman.

It sought to hand back powers to set business rates to councils and could have seen rates rocket – or a situation where councils moved to undercut each other.

The small business bonus and rates relief scheme would have been cancelled as a result of the move had it been approved.

Miss Forbes said: “I am delighted that Tories and Labour have done a U-turn and supported the SNP in retaining the Small Business Bonus Scheme.

"Only a few weeks ago, the SNP were the only party on the committee to defend the Scottish Government’s power to set rates and reliefs.

“I know businesses were deeply concerned across the Highlands about the opposition parties’ decision to abolish most reliefs, including for nurseries, hydro schemes and mobile phone masts amongst many others.

“This is a major victory for all the businesses that got in touch and for the SNP who have been resolute throughout.”

The Federation of Small Businesses, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium all condemned the impact of the Greens’ amendment, warning it would have created added costs and deterred investment.

FSB Highlands and Islands development manager, David Richardson, said: “MSPs are to be congratulated for putting the needs of smaller businesses first. To take one example, in 2019 the Small Business Bonus Scheme saved smaller Highland businesses occupying 10,960 premises £19 million.

“At a time of mounting costs and shrinking margins this undoubtedly kept many businesses solvent, and solvent businesses are vital to the sustainability of the Highlands in general, and to its small, remote communities in particular.”

The FSB’s Scottish Policy Chairman Andrew McRae said: “MSPs had a big call to make today. If they didn’t amend this legislation, we’d have seen bills going up and national reliefs axed. This was not the time to hit small businesses with new annual rates bills in excess of £7000.”

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