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No Minister – Fury over massive hike in rates that could cost jobs

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay

A north-east businessman facing a near-quadrupling of his rates has warned that controversial across-the-board rises will be the “final nail in the coffin” for many firms.

Bert McIntosh has been told that he will have to pay almost £700,000 more next year – taking the total for all the premises he owns to almost £1million.

He is one of a fast-growing number of leading employers ready to campaign against what they believe is the unfair targeting of the north-east by the Scottish Government.

Others said redundancies were “a realistic possibility” and that the increases would spell further trouble for struggling high streets.

A delegation is being organised to confront Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, with demands that he soften the blow.

But Mr Mackay has so far refused to offer any rate reliefs – and Aberdeen City Council finance convener Willie Young has urged him to stop “hiding” from the pain being inflicted on the region’s economy.

The rises are based on a revaluation of properties carried out when the north-east economy was being buoyed by high oil prices.

Now they are seen as a “kick in the teeth” just as businesses are working flat out to protect jobs amid the offshore downturn.

The city council plans to marshal angry civic and commercial leaders to take the case directly to Mr Mackay.

Businesses south of the border are protected from sudden rises following revaluations under a system known as transitional relief.

Mr McIntosh said he was determined to protect his Echt-based plant-hire business – which is mostly staffed by his close family.

But he doubts that companies who lease space from him will be able to absorb the extra costs.

He said: “Who can we pass this increase on to? The answer is nobody and we cannot sustain further cost outputs.

“I’m concerned for the whole area. This is the biggest hit in my lifetime.

“There will be a lot of bankruptcies. This will be the nail in the coffin.

“Our customers are all oil-related. They are working on a shoestring budget. If this gets imposed, it’s a closure.”

Mr McIntosh has also urged Aberdeenshire Council provost Hamish Vernal to “get the message through to SNP leaders that this is not an area of wealth – no matter what outsiders think”.

The boss of major Peterhead employer Score Europe said the extra £120,000 it had to find would restrict opportunities for young people.

Some of its premises were valued 154% higher than in 2010.

Managing director Conrad Ritchie said it was “a bitter pill to swallow”.

“As an industry, we are being more collaborative. We are making headway. Then this comes down trap one with little or no consultation.

“We are trying to do the right thing, especially by young people, but we get no assistance at all.

“Where is £120,000 a year going to come from? It will impact the number of young people we can take on as apprentices.”

Mr Ritchie said he “would not have a huge issue” if it was guaranteed the extra money would be invested in the north-east.

He added: “But I do not think that will be the case.”

Trevor Booth, who has two electrical firms in Inverurie, said an £11,000 on his bill was a “kick in the teeth” that might result in some of his 36 staff being laid off.

He has spent the past two years dramatically cutting costs, and said: “Redundancies might be an option that I have to look at. It’s a realistic possibility.”

The bill for his office buildings has jumped 20% in the latest valuation and for his warehouse almost 37%.

“They’ve got to have another look – it’s as simple as that,” he said, calling at least for the higher rates to be phased in over two years.

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