Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has called for an extra year’s extension to the 100% rates relief for hospitality, leisure and retail businesses.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Ross said delaying the reintroduction of the tax will save businesses £900 million in the next financial year.
Mr Ross suggested funding the idea using unallocated money from Barnett consequentials, although the Fraser of Allander Institute warns there is “significant uncertainty” about how much is actually unspent.
The economic research unit’s report on the Scottish budget last week stated: “Taking recent announcements into account, it seems possible that around £1 billion of funding for the 2020/21 financial year remains uncommitted at this point – but there is significant uncertainty around the size of this number.”
Mr Ross argued parking charges in town centres should also be removed to help the struggling high streets, and to allow businesses in areas with tighter restrictions to voluntarily shut and access the full closure grant.
He also reiterated his calls for the Scottish Government to establish a coronavirus business advisory council and introduce a one-week adaptation period between the announcement and introduction of new restrictions.
Mr Ross said: “Far too many businesses are still falling through the cracks and not getting the support they need. If the SNP don’t act soon, thousands of jobs will vanish over Christmas.
“The news of a vaccine provides light at the end of the tunnel for all of us – but it won’t give immediate relief to the pubs of Glasgow and hotels of Aberdeenshire that are fighting for their survival right now.
“That’s why we need a blueprint for short-term survival and a long-term strategy to uplift business support across the whole country.
“The SNP have the funding to give businesses this lifeline.
“They must increase business grants now and extend 100% rates relief next year to give these businesses a fair shot at staying solvent.”
Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale said: “This is a profoundly challenging period for Scotland’s retail industry, so it’s welcome Scottish political leaders are proposing measures to help the economy.
“Mr Ross’s speech contained a number of helpful policy commitments aimed at restoring economic confidence, stimulating consumer demand and keeping down the cost of doing business.
“Too often during the past nine months businesses have been left frustrated over the insufficient notice and time given to implement changes in Covid-19 regulation and guidance, posing practical challenges for retailers and their suppliers.
“Shops face an abrupt ‘reverse cliff edge’ next April, with the 100% reinstatement of business rates.
“Revenues and costs continue to be out of kilter and returning to a business rate poundage at a 21-year high will be unsustainable for many stores.
“With unprecedented pressure on firms, clarity on next year’s costs is urgently needed to allow retailers to plan ahead.”