PAISLEY, like many post-industrial towns across Scotland, is suffering from a town centre which has seen better days. The proliferation of charity shops and empty shop units reveals there is still much to do to bring back some life and vitality to the town centre – a situation that will affect many other towns across Scotland.

However, the recent Barclay Review of Non-Domestic Rates may provide some hope for the future. In her Programme for Government speech, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated that her Government would quickly take forward the results of this review, with an implementation plan published by the end of this year.

The Barclay Review’s remit was to reform the non-domestic rates (business rates) system in Scotland to better support business growth and long-term investment. This was to be done while still retaining the same level of income, ie any increased costs from the review would have to be met from proposed savings.

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For local high streets, the Barclay Review offers a number of potential gains. The current system of rates relief is counter-intuitive and seems to assist property owners happy to leave their properties unoccupied. The review highlighted the issue of the reset period whereby owners can temporarily bring a property into use for a short period (42 days) and then start claiming rates relief when the property falls vacant again.

Tightening up on this would encourage owners to get the most productive use from their property. Similarly, changing the rules around the Small Business Bonus Scheme could result in no discount for empty properties, again encouraging owners to bring their properties back into use.

An expansion of the Fresh Start scheme – which focuses on bringing back into use those properties which have lain empty for some time – is also a key recommendation of the Barclay Review. Although councils have some powers, through the Community Empowerment Act 2014, to remove or reduce rates within specific areas it is not widely used.

However, there is a proposal within the Barclay Review that the Scottish Government should invite councils to submit pilot areas which would allow a council to levy certain businesses (such as out-of-town shopping centres or online distribution centres) in order to raise funds to support town centres and this is certainly an idea worthy of consideration.

This could provide a welcome investment into town centres through either reduced business rates or other proposals which could stimulate footfall, and ultimately business, within town centres.

The proposal of a 12-month delay on an increase on business rates due to an existing property being expanded or improved (or even a new property being built) could also help boost town centres, especially the problem of filling in gap sites.

The Barclay Review – even if fully implemented – might not transform our struggling town centres overnight but its proposals could have a long lasting positive effect on town centres all across Scotland.
Councillor Kenny MacLaren
Paisley

OCH, come on, Kev. Don’t be such a curmudgeon (Kevin McKenna: Don’t forget pride is a sin, especially if it so happens you are a Scot, The National, September 6).

Her Maj said some pretty complimentary things about the Queensferry Crossing, like “three magnificent structures … tribute to the vision and remarkable skill of those who designed and built them”.

Maybe she was just showing her Scottish roots. Her mother came from Glamis, remember.
Lovina Roe
Perth

ALL involved in the magnificent Queensferry Crossing project have rightly been praised, but surely the designers, Arup, deserve a special mention for creating such a beautiful structure.

The way the three spans echo the design of the rail bridge, the perfect proportions of the masts and cable stays, the way the double stays overlap in the centre, and the sheer slenderness and elegance of the whole design make it a masterpiece.

The finest modern bridge in the world by far, and how marvellous that it is in Scotland!
Richard Bossons
Summertown, Oxford