Business

Struggling north-east firms to face further business rates misery after relief system ‘mix-up’

Simon Cruickshank, of Stonehaven's Ship Inn.

Simon Cruickshank, of Stonehaven’s Ship Inn.

Struggling north-east firms face further business rates misery because promised government help has been left off rocketing bills.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay told the region’s hospitality and office sectors in February their rises would be capped at 12.5% as he faced a furious backlash from angry bosses.

However, the Press and Journal can reveal that hotels, restaurants and offices across the region could have to wait months to benefit due to administrative delays.

Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen councils are still finalising the software to process applications – and say they were not given enough time by ministers to put the package in place.

The Scottish Government only issued formal legislation on the scheme on March 17, just weeks before the rates rises came into effect on April 1, forcing the authorities to issue bills without the relief implemented.

Last night, angry hoteliers claimed the delay was a fresh blow in the long-running saga.

Banff Springs owner Charles Milne vowed to pay only the capped rate until the relief scheme is properly implemented.

He said: “What they’re forgetting is that it’s real money and real businesses – they’ve got a lackadaisical attitude.

“Presumably they’ve got a calculator.

“I changed my direct debit and made it for the capped rate. I’m not going to not pay them, I’ll pay them what they’re due. It’s harder to get money back from councils.

“This is the most difficult trading period I’ve known for a while. It’s a saga we could do without.”

The Ship Inn in Stonehaven has been hit with an 80% rise in its rates bill.

Owner Simon Cruickshank claims council officers told him he would be charged the full amount until he protested.

  • Business rates cap a “less generous than promised” bureaucratic nightmare, say bosses
  • Opposition call on Aberdeen administration to reveal its business rates relief plan
  • Derek Mackay: We’ve listened and put together the best deal for small businesses in the UK
  • Hospitality sector business rate increases capped

He said: “I applied for the rates cap to be told that the council didn’t have the right software to calculate the increase, so they would impose the full increase until they got the software, and make the appropriate adjustments afterwards.

“I wrote to them and said I thought I should only pay the current amount until they added the capped increase. I thought it was pretty pathetic that they couldn’t work out a 12.5% increase without special software.”

Both local authorities confirmed any businesses eligible for the relief would be refunded in future payments.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire Council said: “Once we have the new software we will issue new bills to businesses that are eligible for the 12.5% cap in rates.

“For those businesses that have already made a payment and are eligible for relief, their payments will be offset against their new liability.”

A city council spokeswoman said: “Although the announcement by the finance secretary was made in late February, the actual legislation to confirm the rates relief scheme was not issued until March 17 which was too late for us, like other local authorities, to have system functionality written, agreed, tested and implemented by the time business rates bills were due to be issued in April.

“Business rates bills were issued on April 11 and it was considered the best option to issue bills to ratepayers as soon as possible to allow them to subsequently apply for relief if this was appropriate.”

The Scottish Government denied responsibility for the delays.

A spokesman said: “Business rates have always been administered by local authorities, along with any software required to process them. The detail of this relief has been known since mid-March, and we continue to work with local councils to support them in processing applications and reflecting the relief in final rates bills.”

[“Source-pressandjournal”]

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