Ahead of next week’s Scottish Parliament vote on a motion that could end crucial rates schemes that benefit over 11,000 Highland businesses, Kate Forbes MSP has called on Tory and Labour MSPs to put local Highland businesses first.
Labour and Tory MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee voted for a Green amendment to the Non-Domestic Rates Bill that would remove the ability of Scottish Ministers to set the business rates poundage.
Amendment 9, lodged by Andy Wightman MSP, sets out to devolve powers to set business rates to councils. The effect is that rates would no longer be set nationally and business rates reliefs – including the Small Business Bonus and rates relief for hydro schemes, mobile masts, fibre broadband and nurseries – would automatically end.
Highland businesses could lose almost £20 million of relief under the plan – but, due to the SNP being a minority government, this could be averted if MSPs including Labour and Tory representatives for the Highlands and Islands opposed the amendment in the final chamber vote on Tuesday 4 February.
The Federation of Small Businesses, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium have all condemned the impact of the proposed changes, warning it will create added costs and deter investment.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “Next week, I will vote to protect thousands of Highland businesses by voting against this amendment which jeopardises reliefs like the small business bonus scheme.
“I was amazed to see the Labour Party and Conservatives supporting an initiative which is so utterly opposed by the vast majority of small businesses, which are the backbone of the Highland economy.
“If Highland MSPs vote for this amendment again on Tuesday 4 February, the Highlands will lose almost £20 million of crucial rates relief. Voters should be under no illusions – the SNP were the only party in committee at stage 2 to oppose the vote to abolish the small business bonus scheme and other reliefs.
“Labour and Conservatives have one last chance to vote to reintroduce the small business bonus and scheme and voters will be watching carefully I am sure.”
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: “Small businesses across the Highlands need more support, not less. We know that businesses in the Highlands already face higher costs due to the delivery charges, transport and fuel costs.
“Almost 11,000 businesses in the Highlands (10,960) – benefit from the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus. That would disappear, alongside other reliefs affecting including support for nurseries, under the proposals being forced through by opposition parties.
“This amendment also removes reliefs for hydro schemes, mobile phone masts and fibre cables for broadband - all of which were created by the Scottish Government to support connectivity and renewables.
“There is one last chance to remove this destructive amendment on Tuesday 4 February. I will be voting to protect these reliefs but we need other parties to do so as well.”