Anger over rates relief cut for empty Scottish business properties

From Democracy Live: Local Government Minister Derek Mackay hopes the bill will encourage landlords to fill properties

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Business leaders have hit out after MSPs approved legislation that will cut the rates relief firms can get on empty properties.

Companies can currently get a 50% discount on business rates for vacant premises.

But Holyrood has approved changes that will make them liable for 90% of the charge.

The move was branded "damaging" but the Scottish government argued it would help regenerate high streets.

The controversial measure was included in the Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties) (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by 66 votes to 20, with 32 abstentions.

'Tax on distress'

Business lobbying organisation CBI Scotland has already estimated the change will cost businesses £18m a year, calling it a "tax on distress".

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron accused the SNP administration of "demonstrating, at best, a total lack of understanding of the pressures facing businesses in Scotland today".

Start Quote

"Empty commercial properties are a blight on our high streets and these reforms will help bring them back into use”

End Quote Derek Mackay Local Government Minister

The Scottish government argued the legislation would help rejuvenate Scotland's high streets and reduce the blight of empty properties.

A number of other business organisations have previously spoken out against the cut in rates relief, with opposition coming from the Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Property Federation, the Business Centre Association, the British Council of Shopping Centres and Scottish Land & Estates.

Opposition politicians at Holyrood also spoke out against the change.

But Local Government Minister Derek Mackay said: "Empty commercial properties are a blight on our high streets and these reforms will help bring them back into use and bring new life to our town centres."

The government had already amended the legislation so that firms occupying shops or offices empty for at least a year could still apply for a 50% business rate discount for 12 months.

Mr Mackay added: "We need to get these buildings back into use to regenerate our high streets, and by reducing rates for new occupants we can help this happen."

As well as the changes to business rates relief, the bill will give local authorities the power to increase the council tax on homes that have been empty for a year or more by up to 100%.

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