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Highland MSP welcomes 'Labour and Conservative U-turn' on business rates relief

By Scott Maclennan

Kate Forbes MSP helps David Richardson get the message across.
Kate Forbes MSP helps David Richardson get the message across.

Highland MSP Kate Forbes has declared victory in a bid to secure crucial business rates schemes worth almost £20 million across the Highlands.

Earlier the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP alongside organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which estimated almost 11,000 businesses across the region could have been impacted.

Miss Forbes issued a call last week for Labour and Conservative MSPs to go against the party line and today in the Scottish Parliament both parties performed U-turns.

They chose to vote against removing the ability of Scottish ministers to set the business rates poundage having earlier favoured an amendment to the Non-Domestic Rates Bill lodged by Green MSP Andy Wightman.

It would have seen an end to non-domestic rates set nationally and instead councils would set their own local rates.

However, many business reliefs including the small business bonus and rates relief for hydro schemes, mobile masts, fibre broadband and nurseries would have ended automatically overnight.

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 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 FSB, 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.”

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.

“Our MSPs are to be congratulated for recognising this threat and acting decisively to address it. All eyes are now on the tomorrow’s final vote on the Bill as a whole.We urge all MSPs to back the Bill as amended and get what is, on the whole, a sensible and long overdue package of reforms onto the statute book.”

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