Yes, I agree with that. I can see from the record that many business groups did not support the proposal in the order. I will shortly speak specifically about one such group, and about a solution that might be of interest.
The last revaluation was several years ago. The north-east was accordingly assessed against trading conditions as they stood at that time. That reassessment completely failed to take into account the impact of the oil downturn and its effect on the north-east economy. As a result, business rates bills were based on rateable values that failed to reflect the reality of trading in the north-east when they came into force in 2017.
North-east businesses have been paying eye-watering rates ever since. This is their chance—at last—to be reassessed against realistic trading conditions and the market in the north-east as it is, and not as the central belt thinks that it is. Businesses in the north-east cannot wait any longer. One needs only to walk down Aberdeen’s Union Street to see the impact of the crippling and inaccurate rates on that great city.
MSPs need not feel pressured into voting for the order. There is a solution, and it is in the Scottish Government’s own paper as option 2. That solution, which I suspect Sarah Boyack was referring to, is endorsed by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, and is that the Government should carry on with the 2022 revaluation, but introduce a valuation date of 1 April 2021. Revaluing rates as early as possible to align rateable values with current market conditions, in the light of Covid-19 and the most recent restrictions, would be a fairer and vastly more sensible step to aid economic recovery than delaying the revaluation.
For years, the conditions against which the north-east was assessed have not existed. For years, the north-east has paid crippling business rates that have had dramatic—sometimes terminal—impacts on our high streets and jobs. That must not continue for one minute longer than necessary.
The solution is clear: MSPs should vote against the order, send it back so that the committee can reconsider option 2, and deliver a fair deal for the north-east. MSPs can back the north-east and its people by doing so at decision time.