After months of consultation, we can at last see the results of the Barclay Review and its recommendations for improving the Scottish business rates system.

It has been clear to many people for a long time that the current system isn’t good enough. It needs fixing to become fairer and quicker.

But for the review group, a further challenge has been cost. The Scottish Government needed the recommendations to be cost neutral and although the group has put forward further long-term ideas, this has clearly been a limiting factor.

Loading article content

It would be understandable for many to feel right now that the report hasn’t gone far enough. A number of its recommendations would not be introduced for a while, and certain issues, including the continuation of capping the rates liability for the hospitality and renewables sectors, remain outstanding.

But before the report was published we identified the five key areas where change was needed. Rather than single out particular sectors or types of organisation we looked at areas where the burden was disproportionately high or the scope for improvement to benefit everyone was greatest.

As a result, the changes we most wanted to see are structural, and these areas have generally been addressed – although we would rather see everything brought forward sooner.

1 – Frequent Revaluations

For us, this has been the most widely-raised issue. Five yearly reviews currently apply (although the 2015 revaluation was postponed by two years) based on a valuation date two years earlier. The recommendation of revaluations every three years would mean that business rates would be more up-to-date and sit more in line with market trends.

2 – Ratepayer Transparency

A number of recommendations have been made, including more transparency and consistency from the Assessor in arriving at valuations and a ‘road map’ to help ratepayers with both the system and any future changes that would apply. Rates demands would also be standardised across Scotland and made easier to understand.

3 – Penalties

This is proposed, with stricter penalties for those who avoid providing the necessary information to the Assessor, while not providing information to Councils would become a civil penalty.

4 – Reviews

Plant and machinery requires review, and although this is a welcome recommendation it needs to be undertaken urgently to be ready for the 2022 revaluation. Valuing renewables, sprinkler systems and other modern plant will continue to be an issue short term.

5 – Rates Relief Schemes

Recommendations to avoid overcomplication around the many types of relief are being proposed and efforts to create a more level and transparent system are welcome.

It’s also worth noting a 12-month rates freeze for properties that have been improved or expanded, including new builds, that the large business supplement would be reduced and appeal fees would be considered at next revaluation.

Even acknowledging its limitations, this report is good progress in a number of important areas. The onus now is on Holyrood to agree how best to carry forward the review’s recommendations as quickly as possible and provide greater certainty to the business community that its concerns are being addressed.