THOUSANDS of retailers will desert Scotland's High Streets and move online unless the business rates system is radically overhauled, it has been warned.

According to new figures, businesses have seen rates rise from £2.07billion a year to £2.79billion after a series of rises.

This has helped push the number of empty shop units up to 9.2 per cent and cost thousands of job.

Herald View: More evidence of money pressures on our high streets

Around 300 traditional stores closing each year with the onslaught of higher business rates, the rise of online shopping and town centre parking restrictions.

Now there are fears that thousands more will close in the coming years and move online to beat the rates rises in a move that will change the fabric of the High Street forever.

Retailers are now urging regular reviews of rates to prevent further closures of companies crippled by rising tax bills.

A review into rates by former RBS chair Ken Barclay is scheduled to report back next month and the Scottish Government has insisted it will “respond swiftly” to it.

But the Scottish Retail Consortium is warning the rates system must be radically altered as businesses are being disproportionally hit to help fund local councils.

Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium David Lonsdale said: “Increases in business rates have been wholly out of step with the other main property based local tax – council tax - over recent years, with businesses disproportionally picking up a greater share of local authority funding. "As business rates and other public policy costs have mushroomed, leaving gap-toothed town centres with vacant retail units, the fact is that there are now new and often less expensive routes to market for retailers and other firms than simply maintaining a ‘bricks and mortar presence, such as trading online.

"This has implications for the future of our high streets and town centres, for commercial investment and jobs especially in more economically fragile areas, but also potentially for future tax revenues that fund local government.

“There is an urgent need to recast business rates for the decade ahead, in order to deliver a reformed system which is modern, sustainable and competitive."

Herald View: More evidence of money pressures on our high streets

Rateable values are changing for the first time since 2010 after a national revaluation by The Scottish Assessors' Association.

Many firms will see huge increases of up to 400 per cent in the amount they have to pay, with the hospitality and licensed trade worst affected.

The finance secretary said in February bill rises would be capped at 12.5 per cent next year for hotels, pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes. The £40m measure should benefit 8,500 premises across Scotland.

Derek Mackay also announced a 12.5 per cent cap for 1,000 offices in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, to reflect the downturn caused by the oil price slump, costing another £5m.

But according to new Scottish Government figures revenues from business tax has already risen by 35 per cent in the past six years and now cost nearly £2.8billion a year.

Herald View: More evidence of money pressures on our high streets

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said the vacancy rate in Scotland is now 9.2 per cent – up from 9.0 per cent last July, which means that more than 500 people have been put out of work.

Every 1 per cent rise in the shop vacancy rate equates to a loss of around 2,550 Scottish retail jobs.

Town centre spending has also slumped from around £10.6billion to approximately £9.4billion in the past five years.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The poundage rate which sets the bills businesses pay has risen by less than inflation over 2010-16.

"This year the overall business rates poundage has been cut by 3.7per cent to 46.6p. We have expanded the Small Business Bonus Scheme - which has saved businesses around £1.3 billion cumulatively since 2008 - to lift 100,000 properties out of rates completely and ensure seven out of ten properties pay either no or less rates than they did last year.

“The external review of non-domestic rates led by Ken Barclay is due to conclude this summer and we have committed to responding swiftly.”