BUSINESSES face spending hundreds of millions of pounds replacing diesel vehicles as new pollution rules come into force, industry groups have warned.

Glasgow will become the first Scottish city to introduce a low emission zone (LEZ) next year, in a bid to improve air quality and boost health.

Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee will follow suit before 2020, banning all but the cleanest engines from their city centres.

But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has now called for a fund to help small firms upgrade their vehicles to be included in next week’s Scottish Budget.

It said “tens of thousands of small businesses” could be hit with bills worth “tens of thousands of pounds” as they struggle to make sure their vans, trucks and cars adhere to green requirements.

It comes as motoring groups warned three-quarters of Scottish diesel vehicles could fall foul of the new rules, if the strictest standards are adopted.

FSB Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox said: “Lots of Scottish city centre firms would agree that action must be taken to improve air quality. But many smaller businesses don’t have large cash reserves and they can’t buy a brand new van at the drop of a hat.

“Therefore, if we’re to ensure that urban Scotland continues to be a great place to do business, then financial help should be offered to firms looking to transition to lower emission vehicles.”

The FSB said an £18 million bus scrappage scheme was already in place to help bring in low carbon public transport, adding: “It would seem fair to have a similar pot available for non-bus vehicle upgrades.”

And it argued for national standards to be introduced to make sure a vehicle that is compliant in Glasgow would also pass in Edinburgh.

Mr Willox added: “Most UK and European low emission zones are phased in over a four-year period – giving businesses and locals the time to plan and adapt. The Scottish Government must adopt these sorts of sensible lead-in times.”

Glasgow’s LEZ – which it is thought will cover much of the city centre – will come into force on a phased basis by the end of next year, with buses expected to be targeted first.

Motorists will be fined for flaunting the new rules, but few details of how the scheme will operate and how it will be funded have been released.

Ahead of a Government statement on the issue today, campaigners called for more clarity on the plans.

Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the move but insisted ministers should provide “the bulk” of the necessary funding to local authorities.

The cost of setting up a LEZ in Glasgow was previously estimated at up to £14.9m in year one.

Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said ministers should be “congratulated on making LEZs a priority”, but insisted “promises will be pie in the sky without the necessary funding”.

She added: “The Scottish Government needs to set out details of how it will fund LEZs. It must provide the bulk of funding for Low Emission Zones and not simply pass the bill onto cash-strapped councils.”

Scottish Conservative shadow environment Donald Cameron said the SNP should take calls for a fund to help small businesses “very seriously”.

He said: “Small businesses have enough costs and bureaucracy without having to invest even more cash in a new fleet of vehicles.

“The SNP has plenty of room in its budget to support ideas like this, and should give this idea proper consideration.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Greens’ transport spokesman Mark Ruskell MSP condemned the Government’s approach as “haphazard at best”.

He added: “So far, only a tiny proportion of buses have been retrofitted and the government needs to release new finance to allow for these upgrades as soon as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has committed to introducing Low Emission Zones (LEZs) into Scotland’s four biggest cities between 2018 and 2020. We have a clear vision for Scotland’s air quality to be the best in Europe. However, air quality remains a public health issue, particularly for the youngest and oldest in our communities, and especially for those with existing respiratory conditions.

“Each LEZ must be designed for its city, and those designs are still in development, however, we are committed to providing financial support to implement LEZs in partnership with local authorities. The Finance Secretary will set out the Scottish Government’s draft budget plans to the Scottish Parliament on 14 December.”