Fife at business rates review meeting

Depute Fife Council leader Lesley Laird
Depute Fife Council leader Lesley Laird

The depute leader of Fife Council sat in on a government-commisioned review designed to help regenerate growth in town centres.

Councillor Lesley Laird was invited to speak on behalf of Fife Council last Friday at the Barclay Review which has been set up to look at the current system of non-domestic rates across Scotland.

Fife was the only local authority asked to jointhe review – which is being chaired by Ken Barclay, former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland – following on from Kirkcaldy 4All the previous week, the only Scottish BID invited to give evidence.

Cllr Laird said it made for an interesting discussion.

“We’ve been campaigning for reform ever since I took over the portfolio in 2013.

“We’d made a very strong submission, we’d surveyed a lot of businesses in Fife and that allowed us to put in case studies to illustrate some of the key points that we were making about the reasons for reform.

“We posed a number of questions to the review; what is the problem that we’re trying to fix here, what is the business rates system now for, what are the reliefs now for, and, if we are giving reliefs, then where does that link to our wider economic agenda of inclusive growth and sustainable employment?

“That was really the premise around which we set out Fife’s case to the Barclay Review.”

Cllr Laird believes the rates system to be out of date, saying: “It is extremely old and its whole original concept has now fundamentally changed.

“We also pointed out that there are whole areas that are exempt which we believe should be included for rates.

“For example, if you are really focused on delivering the Scottish Government’s Town Centre First Principle then why are you giving an unfair advantage to out of town retailers in terms of the rates they have, especially when more often than not they have free parking.”

The review will report back to the government with its findings in July and Cllr Laird added: “It will be interesting to see how they frame their recommendations.

“If they do come up with some fundamental changes lets hope there is an openness to look at that.”