GROUPS representing the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors in Scotland have issued a demand for the Scottish Government to provide the same level of relief from business rates that their counterparts currently enjoy in England and Wales.

Shops, bars, cafes and cinemas down south are entitled to 75 per cent relief from non-domestic rates in the 2023-24 financial year, up to a maximum of £110,000 per firm, under a measure introduced by the UK Government to help firms recover from the pandemic.

There has been growing frustration that similar relief has not been provided to the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors in Scotland, with the owner of Scottish clothing chain Wilkies declaring last week that support of this magnitude would make a “massive difference” to firms struggling with the cost-of-doing business crisis.

READ MORE: Scottish retailer hits out at 'huge' tax difference with England

As reported in The Herald, the difference in policy means the Wilkies store in North Berwick pays £10,000 per year in business rates while its shop across the Border in Berwick-upon-Tweed pays just £2,260 – even though both properties have a rateable value of £21,000.

Now groups representing tens of thousands of businesses have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and Deputy First Minister, Shona Robison, calling for ministers to “urgently” provide the same level of support in Scotland.

The letter was written in the name of Pete Cheema, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, and signed by the Scottish Retail Consortium, British Independent Retailers Association, Booksellers Association, UK Hospitality Scotland, Scottish Licensed Trade Association, and the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

It highlights that many small and medium-sized firms on the high street are “struggling to make ends meet” and states: “We believe that it is essential that the Scottish Government offer comparable rates relief to retail and hospitality to that available in England and Wales. Where, in the case of the former, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has committed to provide 75% business rates relief for properties in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, up to a maximum of £110,000 of relief per business."

READ MORE: Scottish retailers slam 'apparent retraction' of SNP manifesto pledge

The letter adds: “We firmly believe that the Scottish Government should act now and provide, at the very least, similar assistance in Scotland while at the same time ensuring that current supports and reliefs available are not impacted, or other business-related rates increased.

“In the retail context, shopper footfall has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels and retail sales are subdued, given the cost-of-living crisis for consumers. In addition, retailers and hospitality outlets are forced to contend with their own pressures such as high energy costs, high inflation and food inflation, and continued supply chain disruption.

"Unfortunately, however, businesses find themselves in a situation where they do not have the access to the additional assistance which our counterparts in the rest of GB (Great Britain) have, to help sustain and support them to continue trading during this critical period for the economy.”

Responding to the Wilkies story last week, a spokesman for the Scottish Government told The Herald that ministers had frozen the business rates poundage rate – “the biggest ask of business” – and has “no plans to introduce new rates relief during the financial year”.

The spokesman added that the current rates relief package in Scotland is estimated to be worth £744 million in 2023-24 and will ensure around half of properties in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors will not pay rates in the current year because of “the most generous small business relief in the UK.

“Properties in these sectors may also be eligible for the transitional relief schemes set out in the Budget.”

READ MORE: Tyndrum tourist spot scoops prestigious honour

The letter to Ms Robison notes, however, that the new tapered small business bonus scheme in Scotland “could significantly reduce the support available for many retail and hospitality businesses with RVs (rateable values) between £12,001 and £15,000”.

It emerged last week that the Scottish Government remains committed to restoring parity with England with regard to the higher property rate, applied to non-domestic properties with a value of £100,000 or more, over the course of the current parliament, despite public finance minister Tom Arthur previously suggesting it would depend on available funding.

Responding to a question from Beatrice Wishart, Liberal Democrat MSP for the Shetland Islands, Mr Arthur said: “We have taken action following the Barclay review to move towards that. We introduced the intermediate property relief a number of years ago, which significantly reduced the number of businesses that are subject to the higher property rate.

"We have increased the threshold from £95,000 to £100,000 most recently, and, as per our manifesto commitment, we are committed to achieving that parity over the course of this parliamentary term.”