A storm is 'brewing' among coffee shops and other local hospitality and retail businesses over non-domestic rates said to be reaching £1,000 a month - with one major chain in Largs describing the lack of support as a 'punch in the face' for hard working businesses trying to survive.

North Coast councillor Tom Marshall raised the issue during the last full meeting of the year at North Ayrshire Council (NAC).

Councillors from all sides backed his plea for the local authority to write to Humza Yousaf asking for a rates relief scheme to be restarted for the new financial year.

And Karen Forret, managing director of the Wilkies chain of clothes shops, which has six stores in Scotland, including Largs, has slammed the lack of support for Scottish businesses.

Ms Forret said: "At the Autumn Statement on 17 November 2022 the Chancellor announced the introduction of a new business rates relief scheme for retail, hospitality and leisure properties – "We waited BUT this financial support was not passed onto businesses in Scotland despite money being given to the Scottish government through Barnett Consequentials.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Slammed: Karen Forret of Wilkies has slammed lack of support in high streetSlammed: Karen Forret of Wilkies has slammed lack of support in high street (Image: Wilkies)

"In Westminster’s budget in November 2023 this support was extended for English retailers. The 2023/24 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Rates Relief scheme will provide eligible, occupied, retail, hospitality and leisure properties with a 75 per cent relief, up to a cash cap limit of £110,000 per business.

"Scottish businesses need the same support and as we all waited for the support to be replicated in the Scottish government's budget but they have failed again to support our high streets despite being given the money from Westminster.

"The Scottish government are spending over £122 million investing in towns and high streets needing regeneration as part of the levelling up funding, which is great – but there is no point if, the vast majority of units are lying vacant.

"As a business we had to make the very difficult decision this year closing five out of 11 of our stores, we had already closed three stores post pandemic.

"At the time we thought seriously whether it was worth saving the six that we have kept open, but we believe our high streets and the jobs we have taken forward were worth saving!

"It is such a punch in the face for the Scottish businesses investing in our highs streets not to have been given the support the deserve."

Cllr Marshall told the NAC meeting: "I use one of the local coffee shops in Largs. I happened to be in conversation with the owner and he told me he is paying a lot of money on non-domestic rates to the tune of £1,000 per month.

"There is a problem as a lot of local shops and businesses are trying to survive."

Largs and Millport Weekly News:

Cllr Marshall then brought forward a motion at North Ayrshire Council.

The Scottish Government previously operated a business rates relief scheme - based on consequentials from the Barnett Formula of Scottish funding from Westminster - for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

That scheme, Cllr Marshall said, resulted in rebates of £463,606 for the sector in North Ayrshire during the 2022-23 financial year.

But it was not repeated in 2023-24.

He stated: "I move that the council agree that the chief executive write to the First Minister, the cabinet secretary for finance and all MSPs representing North Ayrshire, requesting that the Scottish Government restart the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme for 2024/25 - and this is the important point - saving 528 local businesses approximately £3,168,617 and ensuring the continuing vitality of our high streets.”

Addressing the council chamber, Cllr Marshall said: "The Scottish Government, in 2021, gave 100 per cent rebates for non-domestic rates.

"The next year they gave a 50 per cent rebate but only for three months.

"The following year, they didn't give them rebates - while English businesses did receive a rebate.

"I would imagine for 2024/25 they will go along a similar path of not to give a rebate, which is why I felt it was important to take my motion forward.

"It is reckoned the number of closures per annum in England is 0.75 per cent per annum, while in Scotland it is 1.7 per cent. There is a huge rate of closures.

"This refers to retail hospitality and leisure and a lot of this affects public houses and tourism related businesses across our area which would gain from a rebate of 75% from the next financial year."

Councillor Marshall pointed out the Barnett consequentials used for the relief scheme in previous years were ringfenced for that purpose.

The motion was passed and NAC chief executive Craig Hatton will now write to Humza Yousaf, Shona Robison and the local area's MSPs asking for a rebate scheme to be reintroduced in 2024-25.

Cllr Marshall told the News: "I am pleased that this has been passed - and hopefully we can get this looked into as it is something the sector requires.

"All businesses are struggling to make ends meet in one way or another."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government will always be open and honest with the public about the choices it has made.

“There have been calls to replicate non-domestic rates retail, hospitality and leisure relief available to businesses in England.

"While Scottish Ministers are sympathetic to these calls, doing so would have meant that the Scottish Government could not provide the NHS, schools, or emergency services with the funding they require.

“The Scottish Government will continue to do all it can to support businesses. In 2024-25, the poundage will be frozen, delivering the lowest poundage rate in the UK for the sixth year in a row.

"The Small Business Bonus Scheme offering up to 100% relief from non-domestic rates will be maintained and 100% rates relief will be available for hospitality businesses in island communities, capped at £110,000 per ratepayer.”