1. To ask the Scottish Government what consultations it has had with tourism businesses in the north-east regarding factors that can impact on the effectiveness of their operation. (S5O-03397)
First of all, Presiding Officer, I wish you, and all members in the chamber, a happy Linlithgow marches day. Long live Linlithgow and long live the marches.
The Scottish Government recognises the growing importance of tourism to the north-east’s economy and is committed to its sustainable development. In March, I had the pleasure of visiting Aberdeen and of giving the keynote address at VisitAberdeenshire’s conference, at which I met and heard at first hand from key individuals in the industry about not only the issues that they face but the area’s wider ambition. We will, of course, continue to engage with all stakeholders, including those in the tourism sector, in delivering our policies and functions.
Recently, Charles Skene, the founder of the Skene Group and a key individual in the industry, warned of the devastating impact that the Scottish National Party’s approach to business rates is having on his and other hospitality businesses in the north-east. Has the Scottish Government considered the effect of such policies on the north-east’s tourism economy? If so, what does it propose to do about it?
In Scotland, the poundage for 2019-20 will be set at 49p, which is an increase lower than the rate of inflation. That will ensure that, next year, more than 90 per cent of properties in Scotland will pay a lower poundage than they would in other parts of the United Kingdom. In 2019-20, we will also continue to offer the most generous package of reliefs in the UK, which is worth more than £750 million. We will also maintain the unique business growth accelerator, which encourages new business investment by temporarily suspending rates liabilities on new-build properties and non-domestic property improvements. Further, we will continue to apply transitional relief for all but the very largest hospitality industry organisations in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire until 2022. That means a 12.5 per cent real-terms annual cap, which is confirmation that we value the hospitality sector across Scotland, but especially in the area that Mr Kerr represents. Not only are our business rates generally competitive; we offer additional support for the tourism sector in Aberdeen. Some of the higher-end organisations in the hospitality sector might have their own issues, but I say to Mr Kerr that the vast majority of tourism and hospitality businesses in the north-east welcome those measures.