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Call for trusts to be exempt from new rates

The swimming pool at Clickimin Leisure Complex. If Shetland Recreational Trust was snared by the overhauled business rates scheme, it could lose out to the tune of £750,000 a year.The Clickimin Leisure centre, in Lerwick, was closed from 23 December to 4 January 2020.

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott is to raise the danger of a “considerable financial hit” of around £1.4 million to the recreational, arts and amenity trusts if they are affected by a Scottish Government overhaul of business rates.

The MSP is due to speak in a members debate at Holyrood on Wednesday evening about the Barclay review of non-domestic rates, a levy on business premises.

Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT), with its network of seven sizeable leisure centres, could lose £750,000 a year, while Shetland Arts and Shetland Amenity Trust would face a lesser – but still substantial – new financial challenge.

Scott will seek clarity as to whether the three trusts would actually be affected as one of the recommendations is to restrict charitable relief on non domestic rates for arms-length external organisations (ALEOs).

The three trusts are independent and are adamant that they should not be classified as ALEOs.

In September Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay said the government would seek to implement “the vast majority” of the Barclay review’s 30 recommendations.

While the SRT provides leisure facilities that would ordinarily be run by local authorities, its relationship with the SIC is on a commercial basis – it hires out Clickimin and other halls for the council’s schools to use for swimming and other PE lessons rather than receiving subsidy directly from them.

Scott said on Wednesday morning: “If the government presses ahead with the recommendations of the Barclay review of non-domestic rates, there will be a considerable financial hit on services in Shetland.

“Shetland Arts, Shetland Recreational Trust and Shetland Amenity Trust will face a black hole in funding of over £1 million if the Scottish Government withdraw the rates relief they currently get. I will highlight this impact in tonight’s parliamentary debate.”

He told Shetland News he hoped the government would recognise that “Shetland doesn’t have competition for gyms, and leisure facilities provide much wider social good – meet government targets and objectives on obesity, health for older people, wider social objectives.

“If government was to remove that relief, worth £1.4 million to the three organisations, it’d have a pretty devastating impact on those bodies.”

Scott said the review, carried out by Ken Barclay and his team, failed to “adequately research what arrangements are in places like Shetland – so much for ‘island-proofing’.”

SNP Highlands and Islands list MSP Maree Todd, recently appointed to the cabinet, responded: “There will be an implementation plan for the whole Barclay review of non-domestic rates by the end of the year. The final decision on arms-length external organisations (ALEOs) has not yet been made and this debate in parliament will no doubt be a welcome contribution to making a good decision on the best way forward.”