Helensburgh Community Council’s Town Improvement Group (TIG) are seeking ‘advice and guidance’ from the Scottish Government on creating a level playing field for retail businesses in Helensburgh to pay similar non-domestic rates as charity shops.

Currently, legislation created in 1962 enables charity shops registered with the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator to receive an 80 per cent mandatory relief, plus a 20 per cent discretionary relief on their business rates or non-domestic rates.

A non-profit-making organisation which is charitable, or providing social benefit, receives 100 per cent discretionary relief.

This indicates the 10 charity shops in Helensburgh can receive anything up to 100 per cent relief, with many located in prime retail spots in the town centre.

According to the British Heart Foundation and the Charity Retail Association, these reduced rates are vital for the charities to carry out the work they do in the community.

However, local retailers are expected to pay these property based taxes into a national pool administered by the Scottish Government.

Small businesses can receive rate relief depending on their rateable value but it is still considered an ‘unfair advantage’ towards charity shops, according to the community council.

Relief is available to small businesses according to Argyll and Bute council’s website — a rateable value Up to £10,000 is given 100 per cent relief, £10,001 to £12,000 is 50 per cent and £12,001 to £18,000 is a 25 per cent relief rate.

One Burgh small business pays just under £3,000 per annum and that is with 50 per cent rate relief, and the owner told the Advertiser business rates is a ‘topic that needs to be addressed especially as charity shops are largely exempt from them’.

And Melanie Andrews McRae, who runs Craigard Tea room, posted on our Facebook page: “Charity shops years ago were ‘real’ charity shops and were not allowed to sell ‘new’ items, therefore they benefited from a reduced rates bill.

“If you look at ‘all’ so called charity shops now they ‘all’ sell new as well as old. Too many loopholes in the rules and regulations allow these shops to pop up everywhere.” Norman Muir, from TIG, prepared a report on the subject which was discussed at Tuesday night’s (May 6) Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce meeting, and has approached the Scottish Executive for guidance on trying to change the rates.

He told the Advertiser: “I briefed the chamber but there was no outcome, the meeting was pretty casual. The subject is pretty convoluted and it is early days in the proceedings, much more work needs to be done on the subject.

“And I have asked for advice and guidance from the Scottish Government on the subject and await a reply.” The report states some charities are now multi-million pound businesses and run as such, the British Heart Foundation’s income for 2013 was £263,607,000 and, Oxfam’s income for last year was over £360,000,000.

It adds: “While each has an undoubted charitable ethos, the difference in context and function from the time when the Act was introduced in 1962 compared to the present day is profound.

“It cannot be right that a small independent trader is disadvantaged to such a degree in the payment of business rates and property rental, while charities involved in retail high street functions get relief on business rates and perhaps beneficial rental agreements from landlords.

“It is therefore our contention that it is an appropriate time to re-visit the legislation and bring it up to date.

“A blanket relief on business rates is clearly inappropriate in this day and age and the unfair advantage enjoyed over the hard-pressed local business sector in all areas of the UK should not be allowed to continue any longer than necessary.” A Charity Retail Association spokesman told the Advertiser the association would support further help for other high-street retailers that are struggling, but ‘policies should aim to make it easier for everyone to trade on the high street, rather than harder for charities; which rely on business rate relief and are raising money for vital service’.

Marion Murray, BHF Scotland area manager, added: “The support our shops get from rate relief allows us to raise vital funds to fight heart disease and put that money straight back into the local community.

“To date in Argyll and Bute, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has funded 43 Heartstart schemes, 19 defibrillators and three health care professionals, amongst other things.

“Our shops promote all aspects of the BHF’s work and are so much more than conventional retail outlets.”