A leading Aberdeen businessman urged the Scottish Government to stop viewing business as “a money printing machine”, as the race for the Scottish Conservative leadership come to Aberdeen yesterday.
Interim party leader Jackson Carlaw held a summit with a number of north-east industry leaders to hear their continued worries over business rates.
The visit came ahead of a stage three vote in the Scottish Parliament on the Non-Domestic Rates Bill.
A re-evaluation of business rates came into effect in 2017, but was based upon property prices gauged before the 2014 oil and gas price crash took full effect.
Charles Skene, who owns Skene House hotels, Inchmarlo Retirement Community Village and Skene Business Centres, was among those at the summit.
He told The Press And Journal: “Business rates have been a disaster for this area as we are still suffering from the huge downturn in the oil and gas industry.
“Business in Aberdeen has been dire for the last four years and you get nowhere by speaking to the rates assessor.
“The Scottish Government sees business as a money printing machine without thinking of the need to make sufficient profit to employ people and reinvest.”
The hike in prices led to firms taking drastic measures, including some demolishing buildings to avoid their mounting bills.
Mr Carlaw sympathises with the business owners, saying: “It’s clear there are very considerable challenges in the north-east.
“The business rates bill increase from £1 billion to more than £2 billion over the course of this government.
“It’s not just a cash cow that is permanently able to be raided for additional taxation without a long-lasting effect on the economy.”
The bill progressing through Holyrood follows the recommendations of the Barclay Review into business rates, commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2017.
Last month opposition MSPs voted to allow devolution of business rates-setting powers to local authorities.
That is something the city council’s Tory co-leader Douglas Lumsden has long urged, with his calls backed by Aberdeen And Grampian Chamber Of Commerce.
But that is at odds with what Mr Carlaw said he supported yesterday as he backed a uniform rate across the country – in line with the Scottish Government.
Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes said: “We will continue to work with opposition parties in an effort to deliver a Non-Domestic Rates Bill which supports growth, improves administration of the system and increases fairness as envisaged by the Barclay Review of non-domestic rates.
“Devolving business rates would cause huge uncertainties and have potentially unintended consequences for both ratepayers and Scottish councils.
“Perhaps most seriously of all, taking this step would also abolish existing, vital business rates relief from tens of thousands of businesses.”