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Fish firms join forces to battle business rate hike

Fish-processing firms have joined forces to warn the “vast injustice” of business rate hikes has put thousands of jobs in jeopardy.

As the first bills start arriving on firms’ doorsteps, ministers have been told sharp rises will put the skids under the sector just as it eyes a recovery.

Bosses of 10 north-east outfits held crisis talks with Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils this week to press their case for help with the extra burden.

Warehouses and workshops in the region have been saddled with average 40% increases in their rateable value.

But they have been excluded from Scottish Government relief payments – which are available only to the hospitality and office sectors.

The coalition of firms are seeking an urgent face-to-face meeting with the Scottish Government as they draw battlelines over the extra burden.

Michael Robertson, managing director of Joseph Robertson Ltd, said they were now “considering our next steps” in the fight for help.

Almost a third of the 12,000 jobs supported by the UK processing sector are based in Grampian.

Fears for the future of livelihoods based on the daily catch from the North Sea were set out starkly in a letter from city council leader Jenny Laing to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.

“These businesses employ many thousands of people whose employment has now been placed in serious jeopardy,” she told him after the town house summit.

“The businesses all see a prosperous future as fish stocks improve and the catching sector recovers the management and control of these stocks.

“In order to maximise this opportunity they believe the industry requires ongoing and substantial investment.

“However, the fear now is that the proposed rates increase will not only stifle investment and threaten the survival of the businesses but will also fatally undermine the opportunity to create sustainable employment and breathe new life into fishing communities.”

She said urgent work was needed “to mitigate the increase in business rates and secure a positive future for the industry”.

Dozens of major employers have joined a chorus of complaints about the massive increases facing many north-east firms.

Business leaders believe many more though will only become aware of the scale of their additional tax liability as bills land on the doormat.

Aberdeen City Council began sending them out yesterday, with other authorities due to follow suit in the coming days.

Mr Mackay was forced into a partial U-turn after initially refusing to cushion the blow – capping at 12.5% the first-year increases for bars, hotels and other hospitality venues across Scotland.

His only targeted help for the north-east was a similar measure for office buildings – to the fury of other sectors facing the squeeze.

Ministers say it is up to local authorities to provide the rest – with Aberdeenshire agreeing a £3million package.

In the city however, the Labour-led administration says it will only go ahead with an injection of the same sum if it is matched by Holyrood.

Jimmy Buchan, business manager of the Scottish Seafood Association, said rate rises were wrong “at a time when Scotland appears to be teetering on the edge of recession”.

“We oppose the rate rise of this size as it creates no incentives to grow and increase employment,” he said.

Peterhead-based Mapco owner Nasar Rashid said his firm’s rateable value almost treble over recent years.

He said: “It’s a huge cost and comes at the same time as a lot of other pressures like the currency value.

“If this continues there are going to be redundancies and closures all over the place. It will happen over the next 12 months.”

Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said the talks had been “very constructive”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has committed to £660million of business rates relief

this year, including an additional £7.5million relief recently announced for Aberdeen.

“This is alongside an additional £130million resource for local government also announced recently, including an additional

£4.5million for Aberdeen. We will respond to Aberdeen City Council in due course.”