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Caithness Chamber of Commerce Comment on Scottish Budget 2018-19

Speaking about Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution Derek Mackay’s recent Scottish Budget announcement, Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:

“Today’s Budget undoubtedly contained good news for businesses throughout Scotland, with increased investment in infrastructure, enterprise and skills, and it is clear that the voice of business has been heard on the issue of business rates.

“However, we are concerned that the changes announced to the higher and top rates of income tax will have a negative impact on the ability of businesses in Scotland to attract and retain highly-skilled staff.

“We would also note that there are many areas of today’s Budget where we will have to withhold judgement due to lack of detail. For example, it was announced that £1.2 billion will be invested in transport infrastructure, but beyond a brief mention of a few aspirational projects no clear indication has yet been given as to how and where this money will be allocated.

“Starting with the positives, the Minister’s announced changes to business rates will be welcome news for many businesses, both in the North Highlands and across Scotland. The change to track the inflationary uplift in the poundage rate against CPI instead of RPI has been a key ask for businesses, and the announcement of additional reliefs on new-build and newly improved properties will help to encourage greater investment in business properties.

“The Scottish Government’s plans to commit £756m towards construction of affordable housing will be welcome news to those in the construction industry, as well as to many aspiring homeowners.

“Looking now to the changes to income tax, we remain concerned that increases to higher and top-rate tax bands will make it hard for businesses to attract and retain highly-skilled staff.

“Rural areas such as the North Highlands are already having to compete with the rest of Scotland and the UK to attract top-tier talent, and the fact that Scotland will now have a less favourable tax regime than the rest of the UK puts another barrier in the way of attracting individuals to live and work in this area.

“Finally, as noted above, there are many areas where there is still a lack of detail as to exactly how the Minister’s proposed investments will be allocated, and we call on Scottish Government to commit to delivering more investment to rural areas such as the North Highlands.

“With transport, for example, the Central Belt has in recent years seen a raft of major investments – while the A9 north of Inverness and the Far North Line have been largely ignored.

“Likewise, the announcement of additional funding towards the R100 superfast broadband programme is welcome, but it is important that Scottish Government looks carefully at how best this investment can be delivered for the whole of Scotland. Traditional methods of delivering connectivity simply will not work for our most remote communities, and it is important that funding for alternative delivery methods is made available.

“Today’s Budget – and the detailed spending plans to be laid out in the months to come – offers a real opportunity for Scottish Government to show that they are committed to delivering the best for businesses and communities across Scotland, and we look forward to working with our partners over the coming year to push for the best deal for the North Highlands.”