We welcome the Fraser of Allander Institute’s report and the work that it has carried out, and we have been considering the contents of the report carefully. We are convening a short-term working group that will help to inform our consideration of the recommendations in full.
It is important to note that the report also found that there was no empirical evidence that the small business bonus scheme is supporting enhanced business outcomes.
Businesses perceive there to be benefits, but that is not the same as evidencing that there are benefits—not least because limitations on the available data, which are highlighted in the report, make evaluation challenging, with problems in identifying businesses’ turnover, employment and investment as well as inconsistency in data collection and management.
Will the Scottish Government commit to regular and comprehensive assessments of the small business bonus scheme and other business support policies and to taking a more thorough and standardised approach to data collection, which would allow comparison with other business support schemes?
Just for clarity—I think that this was implicit in Ms Baker’s supplementary question—the Fraser of Allander Institute did not say that the scheme has had no effect; rather, it highlighted that data limitations have limited the institute in relation to evidencing that there is an effect.
When we speak to small businesses, they recognise the importance of the scheme. To quote the Federation of Small Businesses,
“the small business bonus has been a lifeline for many firms.”
] If members find that funny, that is up to them. I reiterate that this Government has committed to the small business bonus scheme. Indeed, if we include all non-domestic rates reliefs this year, the total reliefs are worth an estimated £802 million.
We have invited representatives from a range of business organisations and local authorities to join the short-life working group that we are establishing, and we hope to convene its first meeting shortly. The issue of data in relation to the small business bonus scheme will be a priority of particular concern for the group.
The Scottish Government provides a generous and comprehensive non-domestic rates relief package to support net zero ambitions. We provide up to 100 per cent renewable energy relief for projects that are used for the purpose of the generation of heat or power where the scheme also provides community benefit.
Small-scale hydro schemes are eligible for 60 per cent relief, which has been guaranteed to March 2032. In April, we expanded the business growth accelerator relief to include the installation of solar panels as a qualifying improvement that is eligible for relief. That ensures no rates increase for 12 months after the qualifying property improvement. On 1 April 2021, we increased the relief for new district heating networks powered by renewable energy to 90 per cent.