Business leaders have renewed calls for the Scottish Government to do more to prevent companies in the north-east being hammered by business rates.
Ministers yesterday published a key document on the levy, which proposes a move from a five-yeaar to a three-year valuation cycle after 2022 in order to make the system more responsibe to economic conditions.
The government will also maintain the Business Growth Accelerator which will grant rates relief on new build or extended business properties. It will also reform the appeals system and tackle tax avoidance.
But businesses said Scotland’s 2022 revaluation would be a year behind the 2021 revaluation for England and Wales.
Shane Taylor, of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said it was “disappointing” that businesses would remain at a competitive disadvantage relative to elsewhere in the UK.
“Both the UK and Welsh Governments have committed to bring forward their respective revaluations to 2021, with Scotland’s not due to take place until 2022. It’s disappointing to see no change in the Scottish Government position,” he said.
“Concerns have also been raised about the disadvantages to Scotland if the revaluation cycle is moved out of sync with the rest of the UK.”
Mr Taylor said it had been long argued that past revaluation timing had “disproportionately” affected firms in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire because they had failed to reflect the oil and gas downturn and its impact on north-east business.
North East Tory MSP Bill Bowman quoted Conservative analysis of Scottish Government figures, which suggested the rates bill for Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray and Angus would be £453.4million in 2019/20 compared with £377million in 2016/17.
Mr Bowman said: “This announcement confirms that the north-east will pay £76 million more in business rates than just two years ago.
“Aberdeen City’s rates will have gone up 225% since the SNP came into power.
“And Aberdeenshire’s rates will have gone up by nearly a third in the past two years alone.”
He said he welcomed “the three-yearly review and making the appeals process more easily. But on the face of it, that won’t give the north-east a fair deal”.
Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes said: “We are making good progress in reforming the business rates system to help us maintain a competitive advantage for Scottish ratepayers. The bill provisions are designed to stimulate the economy, reduce red tape, improve transparency and reduce tax avoidance.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these claims – the annual increase in the poundage rate, which sets the amount businesses actually pay, has increased in line with inflation. For 2019-20 we have also listened to the asks of Scottish Businesses to deliver a below inflation increase in the poundage in 2019-20, which ensures that over 90 per cent of properties in Scotland, including those in the north east, will pay a lower poundage than they would in other parts of the UK.
“We are committed to a fair and sustainable non-domestic rates regime and our 2019-20 Budget maintained the most generous package of rates relief in the UK, worth more than £750 million.
“This includes the Small Business Bonus Scheme which offers relief to 2,314 premises in Aberdeen City, having saved ratepayers in the area close to £50 million in rates since being introduced. In Aberdeenshire, the Scheme benefits 7,343 premises and has saved ratepayers in the area over £83 million in rates since being introduced.”
“We have recognised the unique circumstances in the North East following the oil downturn by providing transitional relief to cap the annual year on year increase in rates bills at 12.5% real terms, for offices in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, as well as all but the largest hospitality premises across Scotland. This relief will be maintained for eligible properties for the full five-year period between the 2017 and the 2022 revaluations.”