In recent weeks the Press and Journal has highlighted the challenges faced by some businesses as a result of a revaluation of business rates.
This is the first revaluation since 2010 – also taking place England and Wales – and it takes account of the changes in property values during the economic recovery.
Throughout this process, I’ve been clear I was ready to listen and, if there was help I could offer, I would.
That’s why in December, ahead of the full range of valuations becoming clear, I took early steps to protect small businesses and help to reduce bills.
By reducing the tax rate – the poundage – by 3.7% many businesses who are seeing their value go up, will still see the tax they pay go down.
Having listened to larger businesses about the challenges they faced and with values set to increase, I restricted the large business supplement to only the largest 10% of business premises and, crucially, I expanded the Small Business Bonus, so that around 100,000 premises – or half of all business premises – will pay no business rates at all.
As a result, around 9,000 properties will be up to £7,000 a year better off than their equivalents in England and seven out of ten business premises will pay either the same, less or no rates from the 1st of April 2017.
That is the best package of support for small business in the UK.
That support is all included in the budget that parliament votes on tomorrow and it is ridiculous that the Tories who have cried crocodile tears for business across Scotland are preparing to vote against that help just as they have voted against local support schemes in Aberdeenshire and in Moray.
In recent weeks, I have heard the concerns of businesses particularly in the hospitality sector, the renewables industry and the north east, where I have met with Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.
It has become clear those areas were seeing increases in rateable values that are out of kilter with the wider picture of the revaluation and local economic circumstances
Across the north east, a 12.5% cap on bill increases means thousands of hospitality businesses will benefit. In Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, 1000 offices will see their rates bills capped
And, for the renewables sector, we will offer a package of reliefs, including capping rates bill increases at 12.5% for small-scale hydro schemes.
A revaluation – particularly when there hasn’t been a change in values for seven years – will bring difficulties for some business.
I accept that and I hope that, as well as businesses taking the opportunity to appeal if they don’t agree with their values, councils will now look at the action we have taken and consider how they can offer further local relief or discretionary assistance schemes.
They will have my support in doing so.
I have worked with Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils, as well as others, to help them in using the power we gave Councils to offer rates reliefs locally.
Aberdeenshire Council has proposed a £3m rates relief scheme. I know Aberdeen City are set to debate proposals later this week.
This package of measures helps a huge number of businesses with the impact of the revaluation, but I want to assure the business sector as a whole that I recognise that this system has anomalies and that I am open to considering reforms in the future.
The Scottish Government ordered the Barclay review into business rates last year and I expect its findings in July.
If there are steps we can take quickly to reform rates, we will do so and I will discuss the outcome of the review in detail with business organisations and with parliament.
While the Tories have their fingers in their ears in England and prepare to vote against over £600m of relief for businesses in Scotland, this government has backed business consistently.
We have invested £1.2bn in the small business bonus keeping firms open, creating jobs and boosting growth and we will invest a further £3bn over the period of the revaluation.
We are setting out a good deal for business in the north east and we are always prepared to listen if there is more we can do.