A call for clarity on Kirkcaldy business rates confusion

editorial image

Proposed new business rates which could have a major impact on the future of Kirkcaldy’s town centre have been given a mixed response.

The revaluation, which usually takes place every five years, was postponed from 2015 and has now been published by the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) and, if accepted by the Scottish Government, non-domestic properties will begin paying the new charges on April 1.

The draft recommendations will see some Kirkcaldy businesses paying considerably more than they are at present, whilst some will be given the boost of an almost 50 per cent cut.

Bill Harvey, manager of the town’s Business Improvement District, Kirkcaldy 4 All, said the new rates were “confusing” and called for more information on how each total is decided.

“There’s going to be an awful lot of work needed to look at what has gone up and what has gone down,” he said.

“It looks like car par parks and public houses have been hit.

“The Penny Farthing is up by 55 per cent and Weatherspoons is up by 44 per cent.

“How can they hit pubs when everyone knows that they’re not being used as much nowadays? We could see members of staff losing their jobs or the price of drinks going up.

“We could also see the price of parking going up.

“I took 17 retailers from across the BID area and looked at them at random; a mixture of big ones, small ones, car parks and pubs. Ten saw rates go up, and seven came down.

Bill Harvey of Kirkcaldy 4 All (Pic by FPA)

Bill Harvey of Kirkcaldy 4 All (Pic by FPA)

“The car parks at the Postings, Volunteer’s Green and Thistle Street multi-storey have gone up, as has the private car park at Nicol Street.

“The empty BHS has gone up as has M&S by 19 per cent. ACA Sports up 18 per cent, the Pancake Place up 33 per cent.

“But Eloise which has just moved onto the High Street has seen its rates go down by 54 per cent, which is great– but if it stayed on Hunter Street its rates would have gone up by 30.5 per cent.

“How do they work this out?”

SAA works out the amount of rates paid based on the net annual value and rateable value of a property, defined as being equivalent to the amount of rent that the property might reasonably be expected to achieve on the open market.

But Bill says there needs to be clearer information available to business owners.

“Our submission to the Barclay Enquiry, which is to report to the Scottish Government in July, is that we need flexibility and we need to be able to assess rates.

“Here we have had Fife assessors go out – but how do they assess these rates? Where is the clarity in this?

“I don’t think the Scottish Government has done us any favours here.

“It has tweaked it to satisfy themselves, rather than the businesses.

“It needs to actually set out guidelines, be flexible in setting rates and there needs to be a more flexible appeals process.”

Kirkcaldy’s MSP David Torrance urged businesses dissatisfied with their new business rate to appeal as soon as they receive their valuation notices which should be around March 15.

“Anyone who is unhappy with their new rate should appeal as soon as they can as they have a very short period of time in which to do it.

“I would like to see the Scottish Government focus on the regeneration of the High Street and to cut rates there, but to increase them in the town’s retail park which has been very successful and to put some of the burden back on there.

“That will make it easier for businesses on the High Street and see others move in there.”

Mr Torrance echoed Bill Harvey’s dismay at the proposed increase on rates for public houses.

“I’m very disappointed to see an increase which will affect the night time economy,” he said.

“It’s a trade that is struggling as it is and the High Street needs both a day time and a night time economy to survive.”

Despite a rise for many businesses, Bill was at pains to point out that it will also spell good news for others.

“The old Uganda shop is down 35 per cent, the empty Clydesdale Bank has come down by 40 per cent, Sports Direct by 14 per cent as are B&M.

“There are some big names that are coming down.

“This is only a draft of course, and it’s not been agreed yet, though I think that it will probably go ahead.”

Business owners on the High Street gave a cautious welcome to the news.

Kenneth Galloway is owner of The Pet Shop, which has been trading on the High Street since 1956 as it was previously owned by his father, David. His rates will be cut by £6,400.

He said: “This would be very much appreciated.

“The rates I currently pay for parking spaces means I make a small loss, so this would definitely help.

“We need to make Kirkcaldy High Street more affordable to traders. Some of the rates currently are crazy.

“If you look at other trading streets, such as St Clair St, there are very few empty units compared to the High Street, so if this makes it more affordable then that would be a big help.”

Graeme Kelly of Dream Home Furniture may also be in line for a cut.

He said: “This cut would be helpful because we do need to increase the footfall down here.

“The loss of Tesco was a big blow so hopefully this will help and may see others move in.”

Looking ahead, Bill Harvey added: “In the main, I believe that Kirkcaldy has fared better than some other towns.

“What I can maybe see happening for Kirkcaldy is that Tesco and BHS can’t be let out as a huge unit due to the high level of rates, so we, as a town centre may have to go back to being independent, smaller retailers with a varied selection which isn’t a bad thing, but that’s years down the line.

“Another positive is that I think some smaller businesses who’ve had their rates cut will survive and they’ve also upped the threshold for the small business rates relief scheme.

“That will see some businesses not having to pay rates at all.

“We should also see some of the empty units fill up.”

Ultimately though, Bill called the revaluation “a missed opportunity”.

“The government had years to sort this.

“There was a two–year extension and yet we’ve still got this hotch–potch.

“It’s a lottery as to whether your rates have gone up or down and this is just going to cause confusion.”