SCOTLAND is to pioneer a series of reforms to business rates to help boost the economy.

New build properties will not be billed until occupied for a year, improved buildings will get a year-long rate holiday, and rates for day nurseries will be abolished.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay confirmed the changes, the first of their kind in the UK, as he accepted most of the 30-recommendations on reform in the recent Barclay Review.

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However he deferred decisions on the most controversial elements of the review until later this year, pending further consultation.

This includes a proposal that private schools should lose £5m of reliefs, with arms-length council bodies, sports clubs and some golf courses also losing theirs.

Mr Mackay also backed away from a £62.5m plan to cut the 2.6p large business supplement paid by 22,000 properties to 1.3p by 2020.

He told MSPs he would aim to do so by 2021, reversing a raise made in 2016/17, but only “should it become affordable”.

Other measures include a move to three-year revaluations from 2022, a crackdown on loopholes, new fines for firms failing to provide information to assessors, a review of the Small Business Bonus Scheme, and a review of hydro plant and machinery valuations.

Mr Mackay also rejected putting farms on the valuation roll and levying business rates n commercial agricultural processing.

There are 230,00 properties currently on the valuation roll, generating £2.8bn in rates a year for council services, but the system is complicated by a myriad or reliefs and loopholes.

The package was broadly welcomed by the business and tourism sector, which earlier this year was in revolt after a botched revaluation saw some firms facing rises of 400 per cent.

To reflect particular hardship in the North Eat, an emergency 12.5 per cap on rate rises in and around Aberdeen will continue in 2018/19.

However Mr Mackay said the most important change was the “Business Growth Accelerator”, offering rates relief for a year to the occupiers of new, improved and six-month vacant properties.

He said the measures made Scotland the UK's best place for business.

He told MSPs: "My message to business is clear: come to Scotland, invest in Scotland, and grow you business in Scotland."

Tory Murdo Fraser said ending rates relief for sports clubs and council leisure centres would undermine government policy “in encouraging active lifestyles and tackling obesity".

He urged Mr Mackay to rule out "this damaging SNP swim tax", but welcomed the proposal to exempt empty new build properties and a possible cut in the large business supplement.

Green MSP Andy Wightman criticised the "narrow remit" of the review and said it was "not the thorough and comprehensive review of the system promised".

The Scottish Tourism Alliance, the British Hospitality Association, and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said they were “hugely encouraged” by the announcement.

David Lonsdale of the Scottish Retail Consortium welcomed the changes, but said the “overall rates burden will remain onerous”.

The Federation of Small Businesses said the review of small business relief must design the best rates for firms, not serve as “an excuse to withdraw help”.

The local authority umbrella group Cosla welcomed the decision to consult further on removing £45m of reliefs from arms-length council organisations, such as leisure trusts.

A spokeswoman said: “The reality of such a move would be that once again the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities would be the ones to suffer. Councils would be left with the fairly unpalatable decision of increasing entrance charges or indeed worse still closure.

Moira Kelly, of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said: “The Scottish Government must ensure that ratepayers and stakeholders understand how these changes will impact them and commit to helping them navigate the inevitable period of transition that will follow.”