Scotland politics

Who is saying what about the Barclay Scottish business rates review?

The Barclay report into business rates in Scotland has recommended that leisure centres, some golf clubs, private schools and universities should start paying into the system and childcare centres removed from paying the levy. Here is how politicians and businesses have reacted.

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British Hospitality Association (BHA), Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) and Scottish Tourism Alliance said in a joint statement that while the review group acknowledged the case made by BHA that the system of valuing hospitality and licensed businesses is flawed and unfair, it also acknowledged that there was no system of valuation that was likely to meet with the universal approval of all businesses in such a diverse sector. However, in submissions to Barclay, the industry suggested that Scottish Assessors engage with the industry, its trade bodies and advisers to discuss and agree a future valuation framework which is acceptable to and understood by the industry. BHA and the other trade organisations said they would continue to make this case to Scottish government as it considers how it will respond to the recommendations.

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' Gail Hunter, said: "This report has been keenly anticipated by the sector, and there are a number of recommendations which can be implemented quickly and with relative ease. When this review was announced, RICS expressed concerns over the stated aim to ensure recommendations were revenue neutral. RICS did not believe this was the correct approach, on the basis that the Scottish government does not base this position on meeting any costs from policy changes in relation to other types of taxes. Throughout the report, there is recognition of the professionalism of rating practitioners and assessors in Scotland, which RICS strongly supports. RICS looks forward to hearing the thoughts of the Scottish government and, in particular, from the Finance Secretary, who, having made changes to the non-domestic rates regime in the Scottish Budget last year, pledged to move quickly on the report's recommendations."

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) in Scotland's Moira Kelly said: "Ken Barclay and his team have today fired the starting gun on the process of reforming Scotland's business rates system and presented the Scottish Government with an opportunity to lead from the front in enacting lasting, meaningful reform. The review group has proposed a number of sensible measures - such as more frequent property valuations and delaying rate increases for expanded or improved properties. These can help iron out some of the disadvantages inherent in the present system and provide taxpayers with tangible examples of reform within the boundaries of a broadly similar system. Failure to simplify and streamline the current system runs the risk that we will fail to capitalise on the opportunity for reform that now exists."

Scottish Renewables chief executive Niall Stuart said: "Scottish Renewables earlier this year found some small-scale renewable energy schemes, particularly in the hydropower wind and solar sectors, faced rates increases of up to 650%: levels which could easily push companies out of business. We are therefore pleased to see the Barclay review recommend significant reform, including a change to conduct revaluations every three years and a separate review of plant and machinery regulations which can capture the changes which have taken place in renewables since the last revaluation a decade ago. These changes will help futureproof the rates system to allow for further technological development in future."

The Federation of Small Businesses' Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox said: "The proposals to introduce an investment relief will prevent firms from being penalised for investing in their premises. This will allow firms to see a return from their investment before being hit by a larger bill. The current revaluation period has highlighted how valuations have often become out-of-sync with the economic climate and we have long called for more frequent valuation as a solution. For too long, small businesses have been faced with a bureaucratic, confusing and clumsy rates system. FSB has repeatedly argued for a modern and progressive system and we are delighted to see our proposals on improving consultation and communication with ratepayers, modernising processes and the wider role of the assessors as key parts of the Barclay review."

Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser said: "There are many welcome proposals within this report. But many firms will feel this is tinkering round the edges of a broken system, rather than the fundamental overhaul that's required. The hospitality sector, whose safeguard of a 14.9 per cent cap runs out in March, will be worried that history will repeat itself next year. If that industry is hit with the kind of increases suggested last time around, it would almost certainly mean the closure of businesses and job losses. Proposals around independent schools and sports clubs will also have alarm bells ringing in those sectors."

Scottish Labour's economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie MSP said: "We have always said that the business rates system needs to be more transparent, predictable and streamlined and this report contains some welcome recommendations, including proposed relief for children's nurseries and more frequent re-evaluations. However, the report also recommends that certain public buildings, such as leisure centres which are operated at arms' length by local authorities, should pay business rates which is another burden on public services which are already dealing with budget cuts made by the SNP government. It is also disappointing that a fundamental overhaul of the system is not on the table."

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie said: "While any analysis on non-domestic rates is welcome, it should be remembered that the Barclay Review has a very narrow focus and only asks how to reform the system as it exists. Greens are pushing for bold reform of local taxation to put public services on a firm financial footing. Some aspects of the report's recommendations deserve recognition, for example, an evaluation of the Small Business Bonus Scheme is an initiative Greens have previously called for to determine if there's a better way to use this to support small businesses. Disappointingly the report did not propose any of the bold measures that Green MSPs have been campaigning for such as real reforms to non-domestic business rates that would see it transformed into a land value tax aimed at removing any disincentive to improving properties, or devolving 50% of the rate setting to councils.

Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokeswoman Carolyn Caddick said: "The review misses the opportunity for radical changes that would benefit Scottish business. We could have moved to a system of land value taxation which would have avoided the big rate increases that Scottish businesses face when they improve their property with renewable energy or sprinkler systems. It is a good idea to exempt new buildings from rates for a year to give a new business the chance to get established. This will encourage enterprise and innovation. However, it is disappointing that the Barclay Review does not recommend giving businesses protection from the gigantic rate increases that some of them have faced this year."

Scottish Chambers of Commerce's Brian Rogan said: "It is positive to see a number of our recommendations feature in this report which will encourage business investment. Stimulating growth and boosting investment is SCC's guiding principle in reforming business rates and the 'Business Growth Accelerator' which will provide a 'one-year holiday' on investment in new machinery or business expansion, is good for Scottish business. The remit of the Review Group included reforming the system so it could reflect changing economic and trading conditions which is what our members have been calling for. We are disappointed that there was no mention of reviewing the legislation around material change of circumstance appeal rights which are more restrictive in Scotland than south of the border."

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