ABERDEENSHIRE hotel the Banff Springs became something of a political football earlier this month when Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson used its increased business rates bill to “embarrass” the SNP Government.
The hotel, which is situated 45 miles north of Aberdeen, has seen its rateable value rise from £92,000 to £197,000 meaning the rates it will pay from April will more than double from £46,920 to £96,924.
While the hotel sought to hike its prices to help cover the increased overhead, the local branch of the SNP, which has been hiring meeting space in the hotel since the 1970s, revolted.
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“The SNP won’t listen to reason or hard evidence, so perhaps it will take notice now it’s been embarrassed in the Scottish Parliament,” Ms Davidson said.
The Banff Springs is far from an isolated case in Aberdeenshire, whose towns and villages, like Aberdeen itself, were buoyed by the soaring oil price only to be hammered by its decline.
Towns like Stonehaven, Banchory and Inverurie have been particularly badly hit, with their proximity to the city not only making them popular locations for oil industry commuters to live in but for visiting executives to spend their downtime in too.
All these towns have been suffering from a lack of consumer spending since the downturn in the oil industry but many local businesses are now facing vastly inflated rates bills in reflection of the fact that they were performing well prior to the crash.
The Tor Na Coille hotel in Banchory, for example, has seen its rateable value increase from £38,500 to £108,000, meaning a 170 per cent rise in rates payable from £19,635 to £53,136.
Similarly, Stonehaven’s Belvedere Hotel and Ship Inn, have seen their rateable values increase by 106 per cent and 103 per cent respectively while Inverurie electrical shop Booth Scotland has seen a 20 per cent increase and grocer and tea room Mitchells of Inverurie has seen a 31 per cent rise.
Judy Whyte, who is a partner in Mitchells and also a member of Inverurie Business Association (IBA), said fellow shopkeepers had been calling her “in tears, not knowing what to do”.
“We can’t think about anything else other than that dreaded invoice coming in,” she said.
While Aberdeenshire Council last week said it would set aside £3 million to help mitigate the impact of the rates rises on certain businesses, IBA chairman Ashley Wilson said that the organisation is looking at ways of lobbying central government to offer relief to businesses right across the region.
“The IBA has been working closely with the working group set up by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce [AGCC] and has been supporting Inverurie's business community providing information and suggestions about how to make their voice heard by the Scottish Government,” she said.
Ms Wilson added that a summit held last week and attended by Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for business, innovation and energy, attracted representatives of more than 100 local businesses, showing that “this issue is top of mind of many of our members”.
“We are still seeking further support and will carry on working with AGCC and other business groups as well as with our local MSP, councillors and Aberdeenshire Council on this," she added.