STURGEON QUIZZED ON SHOP CLOSURES

Mitchell Way 2

Neglected and falling to bits – Mitchell Way, the main shopping street in Alexandria town centre. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

Given the state of Dumbarton, and Alexandria town centres and the havoc currently being wrought on village businesses by road works in Balloch, it would appear that the local SNP council is out of step with their colleagues at Holyrood.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: “We are doing everything in our power to support all sectors of our economy, including retail. We have put in place enhanced measures to support new development and the reuse of vacant properties in town centres as part of a total rates relief package of around £750 million. That package also includes the small business bonus scheme, which is lifting more than 100,000 properties out of business rates altogether.

“In addition, we have established a £50 million capital town centre fund to enable local authorities to stimulate and support a wide range of investments and encourage town centres to diversify.”

Ms Sturgeon was answering a question from Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart: “What action the Scottish Government is taking in light of recent analysis, which suggests that a record number of Scotland’s shops closed in the first three months of the year. “

Alexander Stewart thought the First Minister might be obfuscating by avoiding the issue of rates and the affect they have on shop closures.

Mr Stewart said: “Is it not the case that the single most detrimental effect on our high streets comes from crippling business rates, particularly the large business supplement that this Government is imposing on hard-working retailers?

“Some business owners in my region have had to endure eye-watering increases that are making the costs and stresses of operating premises unsustainable. What further action will the First Minister take to turn the tide?”

The First Minister said: “We will continue to support retail and our town centres, but I have to say that I find the question absolutely staggering in how much it ignores what is already being done in Scotland.

“We have the most competitive business rates package anywhere in the United Kingdom, with the lowest business rates poundage in the UK, meaning that over 90 per cent of properties are being charged a lower rate than they would be charged in England.

“We also have the most generous package of reliefs, which, as I have said, is worth over £750 million. It includes the small business bonus; the business growth accelerator, which is unique to the UK; the UK’s first nursery relief; and, of course, enhanced relief for broadband.

“We have also expanded the small business bonus scheme, lifting a total of 100,000 premises out of business rates altogether. Moreover, following the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, councils have the power to go even further and reduce rates even more at local level.”

She added: “We are doing more than any other Government anywhere else in the UK and we will continue to do so. However, we would not be able to afford to do most of that if we went along with the Tories’ suggestion to take more than half a billion pounds out of our budget to give tax cuts to the richest people in our country.”

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