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Extra cash from government may not save businesses over rates

Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Jim Gifford
Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Jim Gifford

Opposition councillors believe it will be impossible to offer relief to firms hit by huge rises in business rates – even with the help of an extra £8.2million from the Scottish Government.

Entrepreneurs across the north-east have spoken out against revaluations which will mean some of them facing increases of more than 200% in their bills.

On Thursday the SNP government struck a deal with the Scottish Greens which means local authorities are being given extra cash to offset cuts in their annual settlements.

But Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has left it to councils to decide whether they use the money to offer business rates relief.

Last night, Conservative councillor Jim Gifford, leader of Aberdeenshire’s opposition Alliance coalition, said the payment was not enough.

He said: “The extra money, assuming we actually get it, will be a one-off settlement.

“Even if we wanted to, how could any council put a rebate scheme in place with no guarantee of funding next year?”

Last night Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Karen Clark said the way the extra settlement cash had been handled was “fundamentally unfair”.

“All councils are going to get this extra money but only a few council areas like Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have seen huge increases in business rates,” she said.

“If we have to use council funds to subside business rates then we are effectively subsidising council areas who have not seen rises in their business rates.”

Fellow Alliance councillor Norman Smith, co-ordinator of the Aligned Independent group, added: “It is not being alarmist to say that this crisis will cost jobs.”

Mr Mackay has already defended his Budget.

He said: “At a time of significant challenges in our economy, I have set out a Budget proposing a highly competitive business rates package, which will support jobs and lay the foundations for future growth.

“That package reduces the actual tax rate for businesses, and ensures 6,000 businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will pay no rates whatsoever.”

Aberdeenshire Council will meet to set its own budget on Thursday.

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