Nicola Sturgeon facing rates revolt led by leading hotelier and SNP member
16 February 2017 • 10:24pm
Nicola Sturgeon is under mounting pressure to respond to a nationwide outcry over business rate rises after a leading hotelier and SNP member said he had received widespread support for his call to boycott swingeing increases. Stewart Spence, owner of the five-star Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen and a friend of Alex Salmond, said he had been contacted by independent hoteliers, restaurant and pub owners who were all ready to join a campaign against the new rates. He also expressed disappointment with the First Minister’s failure to intervene in the row over business rate revaluations and said he was “seriously considering” leaving the party after eight years as a member. He is one of a number of industry experts who have warned that pubs, restaurants and hotels around the country are facing rises of up to 400 per cent following the first revaluation since 2010. The Scottish Government has been asked for help by tourism, licensed trade and hospital groups and has been warned many businesses could be forced to close.
Mr Spence said he did not believe the rises would have happened when Mr Salmond was first minister. He said John Swinney, the deputy first minister, would have asked for people’s opinions when he was finance minister, while Derek Mackay, the present incumbent, was not “interested”. He added: “Derek Mackay is not an experienced person. John Swinney would never have allowed this to happen, he was the most wonderful finance secretary, he spoke to people, he asked people’s opinions. But Derek is just completely gung-ho and that is what has upset people.” The businessman, who also said he was a Brexiteer and was not a supporter of Scottish independence, added: “The bottom line for me is that everyone has to pay their fare share, but unfortunately we are being asked to do more than that.” He revealed that his rates were rising by 25 per cent while his turnover had dropped by 40 per cent because of the slump in the oil price that has hit businesses across the north-east. He added: “I’ve been asked to pay £315,000 as against £253,000. I’m just going to continue paying the old amount until there’s a settlement. I’m encouraging others to do that as well.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour highlighted a consultation submission from 22 health boards last year that backed a transitional relief scheme and warned that they faced a potential rise in business rates of up to £30 million. Jackie Baillie, the party’s economy spokesman, said the “NHS business rates bombshell” could put frontline services at even greater risk than they were already and accused ministers of ignoring expert advice. Earlier this week the Scottish Licensed Trade Association warned that pubs, hotels and restaurants could close, and described the rates row as the industry’s “poll tax moment”. The Scottish Conservatives have urged businesses facing large increases to lodge appeals and said formal objections would send a clear message on the changes, which are due to take effect on April 1. Murdo Fraser, the Tory finance spokesman, added that business groups were warning about the impact of the revaluation last year but the SNP’s response was to “pass the buck”. He said: “It is a complete abdication of responsibility. Once again, we see a Scottish Government so obsessed with its campaign for independence that it has fallen asleep at the wheel on the issues that actually matter to people. “Derek Mackay this morning has once again washed his hands of the matter and declared that it is for councils to act.” Ms Sturgeon has also faced the embarrassing revelation that the changes will cut the rateable value of the SNP's headquarters in Jackson's Entry in Edinburgh, reducing the party's bill by about a third, from £19,431 to £12,908. Mr Mackay said that the government had “engaged directly with business and retail groups” and responded to their concerns, adding that his draft budget “recognises the business rates revaluation and proposes a competitive package of measures to reduce rates across Scotland by £155 million”. "This is giving small and medium enterprises the security and confidence to grow in tough economic times,” he said. "Next year, across Scotland, more than half of premises will pay no rates, 70 per cent will pay either no or less rates than they do currently and the total package of reliefs we are offering will increase to more than £600 million.”