The Scottish Government supports VisitScotland to maximise the economic benefits of tourism across all of Scotland, including the north-east. VisitScotland works closely with public sector partners and local tourism businesses to ensure that Scotland’s destinations offer an enjoyable and desirable visitor experience.
On 20 March 2019, I had the pleasure of addressing the VisitAberdeenshire conference during Scottish tourism month, discussing the tourism and business needs of the industry in the north-east. VisitScotland’s public accreditation projects are very successful in the north-east, with 487 business in the quality assurance scheme and 184 members of the visitor information programme.
Hotels and restaurants in the north-east, which are crucial for our tourism offering, still feel singled out for high business rates. Given the importance of tourism, which is a key sector of growth in the region’s economy, will the cabinet secretary back the call by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce to bring forward the next revaluation to 2021, as both the United Kingdom and Welsh Governments have already done?
The member will know that we have the most competitive rates system for businesses, not least because of the hospitality discount, which the Government announced would continue until the next revaluation. The member will be familiar with the Barclay review, which involved extensive research and consultation. I know that there are challenges for businesses and I have been up front about the cost challenges that many hospitality and tourism businesses face. We have more visitors, but the increase in their spend is not commensurate with their increase in number. I am therefore very sympathetic towards giving any support that we can to the hospitality sector, but I emphasise that we have already reduced rates substantially and kept the cap in place for hospitality businesses, including those in the hotel sector.
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce has not written to me and I have not seen its proposals. I am not responsible for the Government’s finance and business policy, which is the finance secretary’s responsibility. I am sure that the member will understand that the timing of any revaluation would have to be considered in the round for not just one area and sector but all Scotland. In addition, as the Presiding Officer will understand, it is not my role or responsibility to answer questions for the finance secretary. I encourage the member to ask that same question of the finance secretary.