A FEW months ago, I spent a pleasant few days in the Perthshire town of Crieff.

As many readers will no doubt attest, Crieff is a charming, historic market town which enjoys its fair share of tourist trade. It is also a town which, like so many across Scotland, has a fight on its hands to remain viable while the broader retail sector goes through tumultuous change.

The reason for mentioning Crieff is that events taking place in the Scottish Parliament today could have a big impact on towns of its ilk.

MSPs will gather in Holyrood to vote for the final time on the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill. While not usually a topic that commands banner headlines – business rates tend to be more commonly heard being discussed in parliamentary committee rooms or council chambers – the Bill stands to bring significant change to the way the property tax is levied.

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In short, unless MSPs back an amendment proposed by Scottish ministers, the legislation will result in the Uniform Business Rate (UBR) being scrapped and local councils being given the right to set non-domestic property rates, one of the biggest taxes paid by businesses in Scotland. It could also abolish the rates relief system that currently benefits thousands of small firms.

Business groups, as reported in a special series in The Herald last week, are dismayed by the prospect.

In theory, councils could cut rates if they had the power to control them.  But that is unlikely in the view of 27 Scottish business groups that have come together to protest the move. They fear the tax will only rise if rate-setting is devolved and argue this would be hugely damaging to the retail sector, which is already struggling  from the relentless tide of internet shopping, weak consumer confidence  and rising costs.

You only need to refer to the grim festive trading figures posted recently by many of the major players to see the pressure retail is under.

Of course, some people will have no issue with businesses being asked to stump up more. Council services are already stretched to breaking point. What would be the harm in asking companies to dig a little deeper?

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The trouble is that, in the current climate, a little more tax could really make the difference between failure and survival. Look around and the evidence of town-centre decline is easy to see. Once-bustling high streets, brimming with big-chain and independent retailers, are shadows of their former selves.

Many big names have left smaller towns and flocked to out-of-town malls, where shopping is served up with cinemas and restaurants all under one roof, not to mention free parking.

It is a pattern that has blighted cities as well as towns such as Ayr or Paisley. In Glasgow, the once-mighty Sauchiehall and Argyle streets are no longer the forces they once were, as the premium retail offer is increasingly focused on Buchanan Street.

As the travails of Mothercare, New Look and Debenhams have shown, doing business on the high street just is not as viable as it once was, especially as more and more consumers shop online.

In that context, lumping even more tax on to struggling businesses must surely be the last thing on the mind of anyone who has the interests of Scotland’s town and city centres at heart. Especially if it results in funding being cut for Business Improvement Districts, as warned in The Herald last week.

Creative solutions are needed to boost ailing town and city centres, not ill-judged, hastily-passed legislation that could have lasting effects on towns and communities.

In that regard, it has been interesting to hear the views of Ken Barclay, the man whose review of business rates prefaced the Bill which goes before MSPs today.

Mr Barclay, who said scrapping the UBR runs counter to the remit he was given when asked to come up with recommendations to modernise the system, suggested a wider review of local government finance would iron out the “unintended consequences” created by the proposed legislation.

At such a crucial time for business and the economy, it is to be hoped such a common-sense idea gets the attention it deserves.