Business Rates Relief Scheme agreed

A new council Business Rates Relief Scheme will support around 1200 businesses which are likely to be impacted by the most significant business rates increases, has been agreed by councillors the meeting of Aberdeenshire Council.

Co-Leader Cllr Richard Thomson introduced the report, recognising that the revaluation had caused great concern and that some businesses were facing large increases and the council had a duty to respond. He said: “We have listened to businesses and examined the evidence. We have a Scheme that is easy to administer and implement, complementary to other relief schemes and will target support where it can do the most good.” He also welcomed comments from the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce who described the scheme as practical, workable and easy to administer.

He agreed to accept two amendments to the report. The first from Cllr Jim Gifford was: “Instruct the Chief Executive to write to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP asking him to guarantee that the estimated £23 million extra that will be collected over and above the non-domestic rates allocation on the settlement will stay in Aberdeenshire. Further to ask the Minister to guarantee that an adjustment will not be made to the Revenue Support Grant to compensate for the extra revenue raised nor will it be recovered in subsequent years.”

The second amendment, in the form of an addition, came from Cllr Martin Ford: “Agree to support Aberdeenshire businesses in line with the North East Regional Economic Strategy with the balance of enabling funding and to use up to £50,000 to develop the business case to decriminalise on-street parking as a measure that would improve the management and vitality of town centres.”

The Business Rates Relief Scheme was developed following feedback from businesses across Aberdeenshire concerned at the proposed increases following a revaluation by the Grampian Assessor.

At its budget setting meeting in February, councillors agreed to set aside up to £3 million of ‘enabling money’ to support a rates relief scheme, details of which would be prepared for consideration at full council on 9th March 2017.

This decision was followed by a further announcement from the Scottish Government introducing a new national and local relief scheme, which will cap increases in 2017/18 at 12.5% for specific business sectors including hotels, pubs, restaurants, cafes and offices. Of the 11,000 business rate payers in Aberdeenshire, over 1,000 have received notice of increases in their rateable values impacting on their business rates, some of which have significant cost implications. Councillors considered a range of options including 50% relief to businesses with increased liability and who meet agreed criteria, an additional 25% for those businesses already in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme, as well as relief on empty properties.

The issue has been particularly highlighted in the North East as the Rateable Value was based at April 2015 when the local economy was extremely buoyant. The Council has endorsed the North East Regional Economic Strategy and is committed to providing support to the business sector, from signposting to other agencies which may be able to assist and in some cases considering financial assistance. Engagement with both the Grampian Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses will be ongoing.

Of the 11,000 business rate payers in Aberdeenshire, over 9,000 will see either no impact of the increase in business rates, or are already in receipt of relief arrangements.

The scheme is in place for one year, giving businesses the opportunity to appeal their rateable value.