Warn­ing busi­nesses could ‘go to wall’ over pro­posed rates hike

The Oban Times - - NEWS - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­times.co.uk

THERE has been out­cry from Lochaber busi­nesses as the ‘dev­as­tat­ing’ im­pact of ris­ing busi­nesses rates has come to light.

The levy, which will come into force on April 1, is based on the an­nual rent coun­cil-em­ployed as­ses­sors es­ti­mate busi­ness premises would com­mand on the open mar­ket and a ‘poundage’ rate set by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment. The in­creases fol­low the first reval­u­a­tion of rental val­ues since 2010.

The Oban Times was con­tacted by one Lochaber ho­tel, who wished to re­main an­noy­mous, af­ter find­ing out its busi­nesses rates have dou­bled from £22,000 to £ 55,000.

The man­ager said she only dis­cov­ered busi­nesses rates were ris­ing af­ter re­ceiv­ing a let­ter from a com­pany ask­ing to rep­re­sent her in an ap­peal.

She said: ‘We have to in­crease our own rates to keep up with the busi­ness rates, which will price us out of the mar­ket. Peo­ple will be pay­ing the same to stay here as they would in London. No- one’s go­ing to pay that.

‘Some ho­tels, like ours, have had their rates in­crease by 100 per cent, some by even more, and no tourism busi­ness can sus­tain that. All the gains the tourism in­dus­try has made in the past few years are go­ing to be crushed.’

Les­ley Ben­field, Lochaber Cham­ber of Com­merce Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, said: ‘The cham­ber is aware of small ac­com­mo­da­tion providers fac­ing rate­able value in­creases in ex­cess of £7,000 per an­num and in cases where the rate­able value ex­ceeds the turnover of the busi­ness we have in­deed ar­rived in com­mer­cial ‘La-La Land’.’

Cham­ber mem­ber David Wil­son, of The Lime Tree Gallery, said: ‘ Com­mer­cial rental val­u­a­tion should be based on the re­al­ity of the busi­ness turnover, geo­graphic lo­ca­tion and the cur­rent com­mer­cial rental val­u­a­tion mar­ket in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor. How can it make sense to have a val­u­a­tion of 100.22 per cent of turnover?’

Caol and Mal­laig coun­cil­lor Ben Thomp­son raised the is­sue af­ter learn­ing one small fam­ily- owned busi­ness in his ward has seen its rates in­crease by £21,000.

He said: ‘ A num­ber of lo­cal busi­nesses have con­tacted me about in­creases in their busi­ness rates of up to and more than 100 per cent. The most se­vere in­creases I’ve seen so far are small hote­liers/ B&Bs with restau­rants.

‘That level of ex­tra tax­a­tion could and will put folk out of busi­ness. We’re talk­ing tens of thou­sands of ex­tra tax for busi­nesses that may make less than that in profit.’

Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment fi­nance sec­re­tary Derek Mackay said the gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans ‘to re­duce busi­ness rates as part of the draft bud­get and has com­mis­sioned a wider re­view of busi­ness rates and their role in sup­port­ing eco­nomic growth, led by Ken Bar­clay, which is due to con­clude this sum­mer’.

He added: ‘It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber each coun­cil re­tains all the busi­ness rates rev­enue it col­lects and it is for coun­cils to ap­ply rates re­duc­tions, on top of ex­ist­ing statu­tory re­liefs, as they see fit. Our pack­age of mea­sures de­liv­ers a tax cut of £155 mil­lion, which will help those who might be im­pacted by a reval­u­a­tion. It will also mean more than half of busi­nesses will pay no rates, 70 per cent will pay ei­ther no or less rates than they do cur­rently and the to­tal pack­age of re­lief we are of­fer­ing will in­crease to more than £600 mil­lion.’

Fort Wil­liam and Ard­na­mur­chan coun­cil­lor Andrew Bax­ter said it is ‘un­fair’ for the Sot­tish Gov­ern­ment to ‘shift the blame and say the Highland Coun­cil can sort it out’.

He con­tin­ued: ‘This will have a re­ally big im­pact on busi­nesses. I know lots of busi­nesses in the tourism in­dus­try who are con­cerned about it. I will be mak­ing a case for the Highland Coun­cil to look at rate re­lease, but it’s go­ing to be a tough job telling them this should be a pri­or­ity.

Highland and Is­land Labour MSP Rhoda Grant told The Oban

Times some busi­nesses could see their busi­ness rates in­crease by more than 400 per cent in April, adding: ‘How can a small fam­ily busi­ness in Caol and Mal­laig af­ford a rates in­crease of £21,000? It is ridicu­lous and huge rates hikes will de­ter any fu­ture busi­nesses from in­vest­ing in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.’

Mrs Grant urged peo­ple hit by rates hikes to ap­peal us­ing the on­line por­tal on the Scot­tish As­ses­sors As­so­ci­a­tion’s web­site.

Skye, Lochaber and Bade­noch MSP Kate Forbes said: ‘In­ter­est­ingly, a lot of Highland busi­nesses’ rates will fall or they will pay noth­ing as the High­lands stands to ben­e­fit enor­mously from the ex­pan­sion of the ru­ral re­lief and small busi­ness bonus schemes.’

The Oban Times con­tacted the Highland Coun­cil but it had not re­sponded at the time of go­ing to press.

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