Report offers high street traders hope

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A blueprint to stem the flow of shop closures and save Scotland’s high streets has been handed to the Scottish government.

Soaring business rates have been blamed for hundreds of well-known firms across the country ‘shutting up shop’ in the last decade leading to a slump in footfall and once thriving thoroughfares being turned into ghost towns.

The review into non-domestic rates led by former Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Ken Barclay recommends targeted cuts in bills to help town centre traders survive.

But in a shock move, the Barclay Report commissioned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last March also recommends independent organisations like Falkirk Community Trust which operates Falkirk Council’s leisure and sports centres as a not-for-profit charitable trust should pay business rates for the first time.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Neil Brown, chief officer of the trust, said it was too early to comment on the report, which also said childcare centres should pay nothing, but private schools, universities and some golf clubs should be brought under the business rates system.

Mr Barclay, who left RBS in 2015, was asked by Ms Sturgeon to look at the system in a way that “encourages business growth, improves fairness and continues to raise the same total amount for public services.”

He said: “Revenue raising measures may not be popular with some. They are not about penalising particular sectors, they are about removing anomalies, creating a level playing field and reducing avoidance.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, said: “The review gives the government the opportunity to reform the rating system to make it fairer to the business community at a time they are facing massive challenges.

“It comes with the extension of the Small Business Bonus Scheme and the announcement nurseries will be exempt from business rates and shows the SNP government recognises the importance to the local economy of small to medium enterprises.

“Having now received the review, the Scottish government will respond swiftly to its recommendations.”