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Small Businesses (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th December 2019.

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Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support small businesses. (S5T-01920)

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting small business and to creating the conditions in which businesses are empowered to grow and succeed.

One of the primary ways that we support small businesses is through the most generous package of rates relief in the United Kingdom, which includes the small business bonus scheme. As of 31 May 2019, more than 120,000 properties had received support through the small business bonus scheme, with 111,000 of them receiving 100 per cent relief. The amount of small business bonus relief that was awarded in 2019 was £266 million—up from £248 million at the same time in 2018.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

Many small businesses require the help of the Scottish Government’s small business bonus scheme to continue to trade. At this point, I declare, as an MSP, that my constituency office receives relief through the small business bonus scheme. I wonder how many Opposition MSPs have declared that interest at committee.

It is, I am led to believe, proposed by Opposition members that we remove that much-welcomed scheme. Am I wrong? Will the minister also advise Parliament what could happen if the scheme were to be removed by hypocritical Opposition members?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

Richard Lyle is right. As matters stand, Opposition MSPs—the Tories, who profess to support business; Labour, who claim to support progressive tax policies; and the Greens—voted for an amendment to the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill that would, in effect, abolish the small business bonus scheme, as well as many other important reliefs that support economic growth and increase fairness. Incidentally, those were two key themes of the Barclay review

.

The small business bonus scheme is a vital part of our package of measures to assist smaller businesses. Over the past few weeks, the business community has spoken very clearly and very loudly about its views on abolition of that relief.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

There we have it. The Opposition parties would remove the scheme at their peril. The SNP Government has helped small businesses to survive and wishes to see continuation of the scheme. What steps has the Government taken to ensure that it will continue?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

We will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill supports growth, improves administration of the system and increases fairness. It is concerning that many of our key stakeholders, including the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Retail Consortium and UK Hospitality, no longer believe that the bill as it stands—that is, as it has been amended by the Tories, Labour and the Greens—supports growth and increases fairness.

I welcome the fact that the Local Government and Communities Committee will take further evidence on that change to the bill. I have offered to provide further evidence to the committee in the new year, so I look forward to its response.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

While we are on the topic of hypocrisy, the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill will penalise small businesses through a £7 million per year tax hike on the independent schools sector. The policy has attracted widespread criticism not just from the Opposition, but from the education sector and parents. The bill Is clearly flawed, in that respect. Will the Scottish Government listen to those concerns and commit to sitting down with Opposition parties to find compromise and a sensible way forward on that important issue?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I am surprised that Jamie Greene asked a question about independent schools as a supplementary to a question about businesses, given that independent schools have been at pains to say that they are not businesses, but charities. Nonetheless, I have committed to discussing the issue further.

Jamie Greene repeatedly stands up and talks about things such as the roll-out of broadband and mobile connectivity; however, the Conservatives just voted to abolish rates relief in the form of fibre broadband mobile mast relief to ensure that new-build properties are not liable for rates in the first 12 months. As such, the hypocrisy comes at the moment from the Tories, who no longer have a leg to stand on when it comes to supporting business.