Business Rates Raid could damage Scotland's competitiveness

Commenting on the Scottish Government's plans to increase rates bills in respect of empty properties by 80%, Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:

"In passing legislation drafted with the clear intent of raising the burden of business rates upon the owners of empty properties, the Scottish Government is demonstrating, at best, a total lack of understanding of the pressures facing businesses in Scotland today.

"The reason why so many properties lie unoccupied, particularly in our town centres, is principally a lack of demand. Most landlords and property owners are doing everything in their power to let properties, with many offering generous incentives to get tenants in. If these properties continue to lie empty, it is because the prevailing economic conditions, and indeed the high cost of rates themselves, are limiting the number of potential tenants out there in the market.

"Forcing property owners to pay 80% more rates on unoccupied premises against this background is penalising them for current economic circumstances, reducing their ability to invest in properties to make them more attractive to potential occupiers and could be the deciding factor that sends some firms out of business, with a resultant loss of jobs.

"The Scottish Government claims this will regenerate our town centres and get properties back into use. They are wrong. It has been tried in England since 2008 and there is no evidence it has had any positive effect overall. Indeed, in that time, the number of empty properties in England has risen from around 5% to around 15%.

"Yet again, Government has come to the door of business to demand more tax at a time when we can least afford it. The business rates burden in Scotland is expected to rise from £2.18 billion in 2011-12 to £2.66 billion in 2014-15 – an increase of 22% in just three years at a time when the overall Government budget is near enough static. This relentless rise in business taxation is unsustainable and risks damaging the competitiveness of Scottish businesses."