Council calls for Fife’s voice to be heard over business rates review

Local authority is urging businesses struggling with payments to get in touch to help improve the non-domestic rates system

Running a business in Fife and struggling with your rates bill? Then Fife Council is asking you to get in touch following its request to provide formal evidence to the Scottish Government’s Business Rates Review Panel.
Following close work with the local business community to prepare its Barclay Review of Business Rates submission, Cllr Lesley Laird, depute leader and spokesperson for economy and planning, has written to Ken Barclay, chair of the Review, calling for Fife’s voice to be heard.
In a meeting last year with Derek Mackay MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, Fife Council provided examples from the business community on how the business rates system is impacting on business decisions and investment.
Fife Council says it is committed to supporting businesses, and wants to raise its concerns around the current operation of the Non-Domestic Rates system as well as highlight opportunities to improve it.
Cllr Laird said: “Fife Council does not set business rates, but this is one of the main issues that Fife firms repeatedly raise with me. Businesses are telling us that there are unintended consequences associated with existing reliefs and exemptions.
“One big area of concern is the industrial property market and the removal of vacant rate relief.  There are real concerns about deterioration, or even demolition, of industrial stock, and this change will not encourage speculative industrial development.
“If we are all serious about developing inclusive growth, having a rates system (including reliefs) geared towards that, must be the aim.  The current system does not support an inclusive growth approach.
“For example, some sectors pay nothing at all, the charity sector can receive significant rates relief, and business that want to be on the high street can’t always afford to pay the rates to be there, yet may not be eligible for the small business bonus.
“As part of this debate, we need to ask who pays, and who does not? What is the best way to secure economic growth, support businesses that create permanent jobs, add to high street vibrancy and sustain our wider economy and town centres?
“The most recent revaluations are seeing some wide variations in winners and losers.  The hotel, and food and drink sectors look to be particularly impacted by the changes. Yet, if we want to encourage more visitors to support our night time economy and town centre vibrancy, we must question if this is the right balance.
“Following the latest revaluation, Fife Council is now set to undertake further work to feed into the national discussion.
“The changes to the system introduced last April are causing concern and appear to conflict with the Scottish Government’s aim of supporting growth, jobs and exports. Fife Council agrees with COSLA’s view that rates should be brought into local authority control – an approach being progressed in England.
“Following the publication of the new rateable values, set to be implemented from 1 April 2017, it’s crucial that this is looked at on an area-by-area basis. In turn, the Council is preparing a briefing for local Area Committees to show the impact on businesses and towns at a local level.
“Fife Council, in conjunction with the business community, has brought forward constructive ideas to the Scottish Government about how we’d like to see the system improved, and I hope that they will listen.
“However, there are businesses struggling with their rates bill, and I encourage any firm under pressure to get in touch with the Rates Team here in the Council by emailing rates.team@fife.gov.uk
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