Freeze business rates to ease burden amid costs crisis, Swinney urged

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Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney has been urged to freeze business rates in a letter from 19 industry bodies.

Mr Swinney is in charge of the country’s finances while Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is on maternity leave and will announce the Scottish Government’s draft budget on December 15.

His budget will come at a time when pressure on public finances is immense, and business leaders have urged him to “at least” freeze non-domestic rates.

Rates are paid on non-residential properties to local councils, but rates are set centrally by the Scottish Government – ​​which also has the power to freeze them, as was the case during the pandemic.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in his autumn statement that business rates would remain the same next year.

The letter to Mr Swinney read: ‘Given the decision taken in the UK’s Autumn Statement, we ask that at the very least Scottish Ministers follow suit and similarly freeze the mass rate of business interest in the coming year.

“It would help businesses cope with the cost crisis, help them keep prices low for customers and ensure that no Scottish business premises end up paying a higher business rate than charged in the south.

“This would support business investment and keep Scotland competitive for most taxpayers.

“Our organizations have a range of ideas on how the Scottish charging system could be improved.

“However, we collectively believe that this practical step to at least freeze the business rate needs to be taken in your next Scottish budget, which would be a positive step applicable to all business premises and help ease the burden at this difficult time. “

The Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Financial Enterprise, CBI Scotland, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, UKHospitality Scotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance have signed the letter.

Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman Liz Smith backed the calls, saying businesses ‘are grappling with the global cost of living crisis and have barely had time to recover from the pandemic “.

She added: ‘They desperately need urgent support from the SNP-Green government in next month’s budget and freezing activity rates for the year ahead would give them a much-needed boost.

“This is a measure that the Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called on ministers to introduce, but so far those calls have fallen on deaf ears.

“A host of sectors across Scotland would be affected by failure to implement this freeze, so John Swinney must listen to their concerns and support these calls when presenting his budget next month.”

Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur said: “The Scottish Government recognizes the enormous pressures facing business during the current crisis and is committed, directly and through key business organisations, to better understand their needs and will continue to do so.

“The 2022-23 Scottish Budget has delivered the lowest non-domestic rate of tax in the UK for the fourth consecutive year, ensuring that over 95% of non-domestic properties continue to be taxed lower than anywhere else. United Kingdom.

“Tax policy decisions will be announced on December 15 as part of the 2023-24 Scottish Budget.”

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