Lib Dem leaders promise tax cuts to save the high street

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey have today used a visit to an Edinburgh food retailer to set out plans as part of the Scottish election campaign in which they have committed to put recovery first.

The party is unveiling bold plans to shake up the business rates system - something which is a far bigger tax burden for businesses in and around the high street than their online competitors.

Changing the charges to focus on the value of land - and crucially making this payable by the owner of the land rather than a business based there - will support small businesses.

The changes should cut the bills for most properties in and around the high street - but would see increases for developers who are ‘land banking’ sites.

Land banking is where developers speculate on buying sites which they hope will increase in value - without actually developing the site. This can lead to sites being underused or sitting empty for years.

The party believes their plans will help high street businesses compete with online retailers, as well as helping to cultivate high streets as hubs of their communities with shopping and social experiences.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto will include commitments to:

  • reform business rates and include a land value element for this new tax to avoid penalising businesses which improve their properties, install renewables or make their customers safer from the virus.  
  • raise more from under-used sites and land “banked” by developers. It will also be important to help remote and rural areas grow into vibrant communities.
  • give local authorities control of the level of tax and reliefs in their area to foster new partnerships between councils and local business 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:

“As we put recovery first, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will provide a shot in the arm to small businesses in and around the high street across Scotland. That’s why we want to give a tax break for high street shops to help them survive and compete with online retailers. 

“The world has changed since business rates were introduced, and it's time for our tax system to catch up. We believe that high streets are an important part of our communities. They provide meeting points and social opportunities as well as access to goods and services for those who cannot, or choose not, to shop online.  

“Making sensible changes to the tax system to back small businesses and create a more level playing field with their online competitors is a no-brainer. The SNP in government could have acted before now to use the powers to help Scottish high streets. Instead, they have been focused more on pursuing a divisive independence referendum which is letting down our high streets and communities.” 

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: 

“The pandemic may have been good for Amazon but it’s been devastating for the local businesses that are at the heart of our local communities.  

“The Liberal Democrats want to make sure that vibrant high streets can flourish and that means creating a system that allows them to succeed. A successful high street provides jobs and a sense of community.  

“Reforming business rates will ensure that online retailers and big developers pay their fair share.” 


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