A shake-up of business rates to help struggling Perthshire retailers has been unanimously backed by councillors.
The new £620,000 relief plan is being introduced by Perth and Kinross Council in direct response to repeated calls from businesses for extra help against “disproportionate” charges.
It followed talks between the local authority and city centre traders in the wake of McEwen’s collapse in March.
However, the relief plan was quickly redrawn at Tuesday’s meeting of the strategic policy and resources committee to include some shops which sell alcohol.
Originally, the council had proposed that any store offering booze – or new psychoactive substances (NPCs), gaming or book-making – would not be eligible.
But Strathtay councillor Barbara Vaughn pointed out that some traders offering, for example, gift whiskies could miss out.
“In Dunkeld, there’s a nice deli which offers a small selection of wine and another retailer which sells those small whisky bottles,” she said. “It seems wrong that they would not to be eligible to apply.”
Convener and council leader Ian Miller called a halt to the meeting to reconsider his motion. After the adjournment, he agreed to offer rates relief to retail firms where off-sales was not the prime business use.
Mr Miller stressed that the council’s depute chief executive could use discretion to allow or include certain shops.
“Work started on these proposals following the deputy first minister’s announcement in November that councils were to be given new powers to vary rates relief schemes locally,” he said. “This proposal is a clear message to our local businesses that Perth and Kinross Council continues to listen.
“We are proud of the strong independent business tradition in the area and know that times have been challenging as we all adjust to 21st century retail and visitor habits.”
He added: “While there has been a lot of publicity about the impact these changes have had on Perth city, it is important to recognise that businesses in our towns are also facing these exact same challenges.”
Mr Miller confirmed the scheme will run for 12 months. “I think one year is the best we can do at this stage,” he said. “It will up to next year’s council if they want to continue it.
“Obviously, we will need to keep this under review. Its something we have never done before.”
Perth City South councillor Bob Band said if the scheme was successful, the council could drawing up a similar review to help the restaurants and the night-time economy.