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Who is winning the race in business rate reforms?

It seems Scotland is beating England to the business rates reform finishing line, with news coming across the border that almost all of the 30+ recommendations from the recent Barclay Review are to be accepted.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay confirmed many of the changes including one that private schools should lose £5m of reliefs. This comes on the back of fierce lobbying from the public school sector which argued term fees would have to be raised, also affecting bursaries and scholarships for students from deprived backgrounds.

Mr Mackay also backed away from a £62.5m plan to cut the 2.6p large business supplement paid by 22,000 properties to 1.3p by 2020 but pledged to do it by the following year if it became “affordable”.

Scotland will also be ahead of the game with a move to three-year revaluations from 2022 – something businesses in England have been asking for, for some time. There is going to be a crackdown on loopholes, new fines for firms failing to provide information to assessors, a review of the Small Business Bonus Scheme, and a review of hydro plant and machinery valuations.

Hard-pressed farmers are also breathing a sigh of relief as he rejected putting farms on the valuation roll and levying business rates on commercial agricultural processing.

Comments and feedback so far seem pretty positive – apart from opposition MSPs – so perhaps the ministers behind the botched reform attempt earlier this year will now be forgiven.

Mackay hopes the message is loud and clear – Scotland is the UK’s best place for business. If Westminster doesn’t get its act together soon on business rate reforms in England and Wales, he could well be right.

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