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    Scotland plans to reintroduce public health levy on large retailers  

    Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, is seen attending a cabinet meeting on December 11, 2023 in Haddington, Scotland. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

    The Scottish government is considering the reintroduction of a controversial health levy on large stores that sell tobacco and alcohol.

    Previously implemented from 2012 to 2015, the ‘public health supplement’ will be added to the business rates bill of larger shops and supermarkets.

    The proposal, which did not find a mention during the budget speech last month by Shona Robison, the deputy first minister, is included in the written budget document.

    “Recognising the importance of sustaining the public finances and public services, we are also committed to exploring the reintroduction of a non-domestic rates public health supplement for large retailers in advance of the next budget, while continuing work over the coming year to explore an infrastructure levy, to be implemented by spring 2026,” the document states.

    Introduced by then finance secretary John Swinney in 2012, the public health supplement ran for a fixed three-year period despite opposition from retailers, raising £95 million. Around 240 shops selling alcohol and tobacco from premises with a rateable value of more than £300,000 had to pay the levy.

    The trade body Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said that the proposal would ultimately punish shoppers, who would have to bear the additional cost.

    “It’s likely to affect commercial decisions and make economic recovery more arduous … Ultimately, the cost of operating a retail business is borne by consumers,” David Lonsdale, SRC director, told the Scottish Daily Mail.

    He added that the proposal “smacks of incoherent policymaking”.

    “It’s a bizarre way to behave when other ministers are looking to grocers for help to implement new regulatory measures including in-store restrictions on alcohol marketing, curbs on selling products high in salt and sugar and a likely rise in alcohol minimum unit pricing,” Lonsdale said.

    “It comes months after the deposit return scheme farrago left grocers with a bill for tens of millions of pounds. A surtax could also have consequences for the state of our high streets and town centres.

    “Escalating rates bills could further undermine support at future ballots for business improvement districts.”

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