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Warning lack of action on business relief could lead to ‘accelerated decline of Scottish city centres’

Russell Borthwick.
Picture by Jim Irvine
Russell Borthwick. Picture by Jim Irvine

Scottish business leaders have warned the Scottish Government risks speeding up “the decline of city centres” if support is not improved during lockdown.

The heads of the chambers of commerce in Scotland’s three largest cities have penned a joint letter to ministers outlining concerns about gaps in the support for businesses affected by the restrictions.

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick, along with his Glasgow and Edinburgh counterparts Stuart Patrick and Liz McAreavey, highlighted two key areas of concern with the help on offer.

Two schemes  – linked to the business rates system –  have been introduced, aiding companies with property with a rateable value of £10,000 or less, and for retail, hospitality and leisure firms with rateable values below £51,000.

The first issue urgently needing addressed, the trio said, is the need for companies to be the direct ratepayer to qualify for help – something excluding firms who share their work space or pay rent and rates to a landlord.

There is further concern bosses applying for relief from Scottish Enterprise, aimed at  vulnerable small and medium-sized businesses, will be turned away.

The three business leaders pushed ministers for reassurance that money coming to the Scottish Government – after £617 million was issued to English councils to help firms “falling through the cracks” – would be used the same way north of the border.

Mr Borthwick and his colleagues also want the £51,000 upper limit for relief grants to be raised.

Properties were re-evaluated in 2017, bringing substantial rates increases and pushing many city centre hotels, bars and restaurants above the threshold.

They said: “The £51,000 ceiling prevents far too many of our independent city centre businesses in these sectors from accessing the support they need to see them through the crisis.

“The risk of not acting will be to further accelerate the decline of our city centres as places that our residents and tourists will choose to visit, live, do business and spend their leisure time.”

In response to the letter, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our total package for businesses during this unprecedented economic crisis now totals £2.3 billion.

“Our £20 million creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund is part of our package of support for firms in those sectors not in receipt of grants based on business rates.

“Businesses in the hospitality sector with a rateable value of more than £51,000 are eligible to apply.

“Ministers are listening to concerns from businesses as we continue to explore how best to help and we recognise that the hospitality sector has suffered huge impact.”

Businesses can find out what support might be available to them at FindBusinessSupport.gov.scot.

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