A war of words has broken out over business rate charges in the fishing industry north and south of the border.
Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has hit out at what he says are ‘exaggerated claims’ from Seafish regarding the differential between business rates for fish processors in NE Scotland and Humberside.
In a briefing paper entitled ‘Business rates for fish processors in NE Scotland, Seafish looked at key factors impacting business decisions and the possible impacts of regional differences in business rates on the seafood processing sector.
The Seafish paper said that business rates appeared to be notably higher in NE Scotland than in Grimsby and Hull - with former skipper Jimmy Buchan saying the astronomical rates were ‘crippling’ the industry.
Mr Stevenson has dismissed the claims as ‘exaggerated’ and criticised the selective interpretation of the report by certain bodies, stating:“I have actively pursued the sector’s concerns about business rates...however, it would appear that the issue has been hijacked by opposition voices who seek to use it as a diversionary political tactic.”
But his claims have been refuted by Mr Buchan, manager of the Scottish Seafood Association, who says he is “extremely disappointed” by Mr Stevenson’s response stating: “We have asked endlessly for assistance to grow the sector and we can only do that if the sector has confidence to grow, but rates are crippling.”
But Mr Stevenson says that while there is no question that the buoyant economy of the north-east has resulted in increased business valuations, those are not set by the Scottish Government - they are set by the office of the Scottish Assessor, who is wholly independent.
“While Hull and Grimsby may have had rates reductions, this is the consequence of having a less vibrant economy than that which we have enjoyed in the North-east for many years,” he said.
“In fact, successive Seafish reports clearly demonstrate that the rates for Peterhead are almost exactly on a par with those for Hull and Grimsby and Fraserburgh and other north-east towns are significantly more competitive.
“This must also be taken into the context of the massive investment made by the port authorities, and a third year of record-breaking landings in Peterhead,” he said.
But Mr Buchan hit back stating: “I’m willing to meet with Mr Stevenson, but all he has put on the table so far is empty rhetoric. They have come to meeting after meeting and said they would go back and look at the situation, but that’s all they’ve done, look at it. I had a meeting with Karen Forbes, Minister for public finance and digital economy, in November and she said she would get back to me early this year - it’s now February.
“Having a war of words in the local paper is not what I want - I’m asking Mr Stevenson to come and meet with me,” he added.