When you are only just over the limit

In Scotland businesses qualify for a rates discount if their rateable values (RVs) don’t exceed £25,000. This allows businesses with two or more properties with a cumulative RV of under £25,000 to qualify for relief at 25% on individual properties with a RV up to £18,000.

I had a call from Andrew Aitken, who runs two service stations near Edinburgh, enquiring about the discount scheme on business rates as he thought he had seen somewhere that this ceiling had been raised to £30,000. This would have been more than handy for him as his combined rateable value for his two forecourts, By-Pass Service Centre in Haddington and Rigg Service Station in Dunbar, added up to £29,400 (£16,000 for one and £13,000 for the other).

Money is still tight out there at the moment. He says: "You’ve got to buy whole tanker loads but people are only buying a wee dribble a week from you."

And currently he is having to pay £700 a month in rates on each site, which both have small stores on them. His surveyor had strongly advised him against appealing the rates. So Andrew approached his local valuation office personally to ask whether the limit had been raised, but he adds: "They seem to not want to tell you. It’s like it’s up to you to find out." He got the impression: maybe, maybe not.

I checked on various government websites and it did seem clear that the £25,000 maximum still stood, but I contacted Brian Madderson, chairman of the PRA, just to make sure (as he has been so active in getting forecourts included in the rates discount scheme previously only intended for high street retailers, pubs, cafés and restaurants in England, announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement).

Madderson contacted the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) to see what they had to say on the matter and got a reply from Keith Mossop, chairperson of the SAA Industrial Committee. Petrol filling stations are part of his remit, which he monitors through a working group.

He explained that the SAA was formed many years ago to encourage best practice and harmony of approach on rating matters between what is now 14 independent assessors.

He wrote: "The SAA is not enshrined in law, however, it does work with Scottish government and other bodies through a committee structure which is headed by an executive and president."

He added that the relief of rates is a matter for each council’s revenues collection service, and he suggested that the retailer in Edinburgh approach the council which issued him with their rates demand for advice.

As I said earlier in this story, Andrew has already done that and as Brian Madderson comments: "Looks like the SAA has been effectively disbanded and it’s back to the individual councils."

He adds that, judging from other retailer comments north of the border, this is not really a user- friendly organisation.

Going back to the English situation, the discount will be £1,000 for premises with a rateable value of under £50,000 and Madderson said earlier this year that the PRA would be contacting the finance ministers in the Scottish government and Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies to see if they will follow Westminster’s lead. So fingers crossed.

It shouldn’t be allowed

Have you Googled your forecourt site lately? If you do, umpteen listings will come up everything from 118118.com, 192.com, Thomsonlocal.com to Yell.com. If your shop is part of a symbol group there will be links giving your location; ditto your fuel supplier will have some input. There will be maps, sometimes pictures, reviews (good and bad) and so on.

Sometimes you will have put your own website up there with all the relevant details, USPs (unique selling points) and special offers.

But I noticed something quite disturbing when looking up one particular forecourt online. (It was Steve Vaughan’s Handbridge Services in Chester.) I was talking to Steve at the time and just idly Googled his site. There appeared to be a nice shot of both the inside and outside of his store. After I looked a bit closer, I found alongside the details of the business an ad for 10ppl off petrol if you spend more than £60.

Blimey, I thought, that’s pretty enterprising, and ambitious of Steve. Then I spotted the contact details underneath: www.sainsbury etc! Steve had been unaware of the site and the sneaky ad and he possibly still hasn’t seen it because I am now unable to re-find it. Possibly whichever listings company put it up there in the first place hasn’t paid Google enough to stay high up in the pecking order.

The trouble with this is, because these are ’free’ listings to you, you don’t have any control over who may choose to advertise on the site.

Weird or what?

I read a piece in the nationals a month or so back about a bloke called Brian Taylor who has been warned that he faces jail if he doesn’t stay away from petrol stations. He is apparently addicted to petrol. To get at it he slashes the delivery tubes then sniffs or drinks the stuff before going on a private little rave around the forecourt.

Over the Christmas season he just couldn’t resist. Magistrates in Teeside gave him a suspended sentence. Make sure he doesn’t come near you he’s a fire hazard.