North-east business bosses have warned of job losses and permanent closures after the Scottish Government snubbed pleas to change the law on business rates during the pandemic.
Industry leaders and opposition politicians have pushed for a change in the rules around unoccupied property relief while shops and offices remain closed.
Companies can have their business rates waived if they can show the property is vacant of people and “all moveable items”.
But firms claim it is “completely unreasonable” to have to empty premises of furniture or goods while they continue not to trade in phase two of lockdown easing.
The government has announced a £2.3 billion business support package and offered relief to firms in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.
But historically high property prices in the north-east mean many firms do not qualify for relief as their properties are too valuable.
Now public finance minister Ben Macpherson has confirmed “there is not an intention to make changes” to the law, in a letter to campaigners.
Carlton Rock boss Alan Massie warned businesses could be driven out of the north-east if the rates system is not changed.
He said: “The high level of business rates set by the Scottish Government is draining firms of money in Aberdeen to the point it’s simply too expensive to do business, resulting in job losses.
“The requirements which also have to be met by businesses to obtain empty property relief are completely unsustainable when they are not trading.
“The hurdles businesses in the north-east are faced with are completely unreasonable and unacceptable, which is why the issue of rates in all forms must be addressed.”
Mr Macpherson, whose ministerial brief includes business rates, said councils should “interpret” around administering the levy and relief measures.
Head of property firm Knight Frank’s Aberdeen office Eric Shearer said while that was “technically correct”, it was “badly wrong for businesses”.
“The government could fix it but chose not to,” he said.
“Councils do have the power to do it themselves but it’s the eternal cycle of there being no confidence they will get the money back from the Scottish Government if they do.”
“The change would have made such a difference and the reality is it wouldn’t have lasted much longer than a couple of months.”
Mr Macpherson also directed businesses to their bank in the first instance if they ran into difficulty, something north-east MSP Liam Kerr said was “shocking and completely unacceptable”.
He added: “For ministers to completely disregard the needs and desperate situation of businesses on the brink by refusing to suspend the condition of empty property relief is quite simply appalling.”