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26 November 2018, 15:29
Business leaders are calling on the Scottish Government to set up a £75 million fund to help companies deal with Brexit.
The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland made the plea ahead of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay setting out his Budget to Holyrood on December 12.
The FSB is also pressing Mr Mackay to commit £100 million to helping Scotland's town centres, to adapt the government's existing rates relief scheme to help more businesses, and to reject calls from local councils to bring in a Tourism Tax, which would impose a levy on the cost of hotel rooms.
With Brexit looming, FSB's Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae said the "top priority" for business north of the border was "avoiding a chaotic no-deal, no-transition Brexit".
But he added: "The fact we need a deal doesn't mean that Scottish firms welcome every dot and comma in the current proposals."
Mr McRae called on the UK Government to "pay Scotland's business community greater heed" when considering key issues, such as designing a new immigration system for when the country leaves the European Union.
The Scottish Government meanwhile was urged to follow the example of Wales, where ministers have announced a £50 million EU Transition Fund to help businesses.
In his letter to the Finance Secretary, Mr McRae said "additional support" could be required by firms to help them adapt to the reality of post-Brexit Britain.
He said: "In particular, smaller firms may need financial assistance to enable them to make necessary adjustments, whether accessing technical or expert information on trading, dealing with increased or different bureaucracy, or addressing skills or staffing issues.
"We therefore submit that the Scottish Government should establish a Brexit resilience fund, similar to that introduced in Wales."
He made the plea after FSB research found "only a minority of Scottish businesses have started to prepare for Brexit".
Mr McRae added: "While few would blame firms when they still don't know exactly what they're preparing for, we can't see good businesses overwhelmed by a rapidly changing trading environment."
Calling for £100 million to be put into a new Town Centre Diversification Fund, he said: "The high street is known as the home of independent retail. But if we're to turn around some of our town centres, we need to make them attractive to the next-generation of businesses.
"We want the Scottish Government to build on the success of its town centre regeneration fund with a new high street diversification programme."
Such a fund could help convert empty high street stores for different uses, as well as help build more housing in town centres, he added.
Mr McRae also urged Mr Mackay to "tweak" the "landmark Small Business Bonus scheme, so businesses outside the scope of full relief get extra help".
FSB Scotland wants firms with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £16,500 to get 50% off their rates bill, saying such a change could benefit around 3,500 business at a cost of less than £5 million.
"This simple move could reduce the total volume of rates appeals, relieving pressure on the wider tax system," Mr McRae said.