THE High Street and businesses throughout the town will struggle to survive government plans to bring in a rise in rates.
That is the grave prediction of local traders and officials this week in response to the SNP’s Spending Review – which includes plans for an increase in non-domestic rates from April next year.
“This will have a devastating effect on local traders, and will certainly have a negative effect on us,” stated Turnbull’s proprietor Ross Irvine. “Higher taxes will crucify businesses that are already struggling, and couldn’t come at a worse time.”
And he added: “It will also jeopardize further jobs.”
The tax rise, due to be hauled in through non-domestic rates that firms pay to councils, is expected to bring in an extra £850million for the government over the next three years and will affect shops, offices, warehouses and factories.
But Hawick MSP John Lamont fears it could be the final nail in the coffin for local shopkeepers, many of whom have benefited from the Tory-led rates relief scheme which removed and reduced rates. “We worked hard to force the Scottish Government to introduce a small business bonus scheme,” he said.
“The last thing the local economy needs is for businesses in Hawick to be choked up with taxes. If the SNP Government is committed to helping businesses in Hawick, it would think twice before placing any additional burdens on their growth.”
That is certainly the sentiment felt by local butcher Robbie Pringle, whose family run two shops on the High Street.
He asserted: “The government should encourage small businesses, not make life harder. It seems really unfair.”
And local councillors have also fiercely criticised any rates hike, highlighting Hawick’s continued struggle through the recession.
Lib Dem member Ron Smith told the Hawick News: “It’s surprising that the SNP government feels that the retail sector is currently strong enough to stand any rise in business rates. We already have too many empty shops and low footfall to our businesses.”
And Tory Councillor George Turnbull is equally concerned. He said: “It beggars belief why they [the SNP] should come up with such an idea in these very difficult times, when they should be giving as much support to ensure that businesses survive this economic downturn. He added: “It will be small and medium-sized businesses that provide jobs in the future, as there are no large businesses knocking at the door at council HQ, demanding land or buildings, and in turn offering new jobs to the town.”
Councillor Zandra Elliot commented: “Businesses are already suffering badly enough without having additional financial pressure placed upon them, and the proposals are hardly likely to encourage new start-ups.”
And highlighting the daily grind already felt by businesses owners, Mr Pringle commented: “It often feels like we’re working for nothing as it requires such a large chunk of our earnings to pay the rates, but to hear things could get worse is a real worry. It’s already a game of survival, and those of us trying our best should be rewarded, not penalised.”