Visiting a food retailer during an election campaign stop in Edinburgh, leader Willie Rennie said his party would reform business rates to include a focus on land value. The Lib Dems would then make land owners pay the charge, rather than the businesses themselves.
Mr Rennie argued the move would cut the bills for most properties in and around the high street and “provide a shot in the arm” for small businesses, who he said were unduly burdened by the tax in comparison to their online competitors.
He added that the change would also discourage property developers who are simply ‘land banking’ - buying up properties without developing them - and help to cultivate high streets as hubs of their communities.
The Lib Dems’ manifesto, published in the coming days, will also include a commitment to giving local authorities control of the level of tax and reliefs in their area.
Mr Rennie told the press: “As we put recovery first, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will provide a shot in the arm to small businesses in and around the high street across Scotland.
“That’s why we want to give a tax break for high street shops to help them survive and compete with online retailers.
“The world has changed since business rates were introduced, and it's time for our tax system to catch up. We believe that high streets are an important part of our communities.
“They provide meeting points and social opportunities as well as access to goods and services for those who cannot, or choose not, to shop online.
“Making sensible changes to the tax system to back small businesses and create a more level playing field with their online competitors is a no-brainer.
“The SNP in government could have acted before now to use the powers to help Scottish high streets. Instead, they have been focused more on pursuing a divisive independence referendum which is letting down our high streets and communities.”