One of the first impacts of the ending of business rate exemptions for shoots and deer forests would be job losses. We have spoken to many in our industry and the stark message is that the likeliest way for such a proposed change to be assimilated by a business is through the loss of a working person. All businesses, whether public or private, need to make management decisions and adjust accordingly. Sporting estates, like agriculture, fishing and forestry are key providers of employment in Scotland's rural areas, with 8800 full-time jobs sustained, not to mention part-time and seasonal workers. There is neither financial wisdom, equity or justification for ending business rate exemptions for shooting and deer-stalking and not doing the same for other rural industries. If this goes ahead, we believe Scottish Government will be responsible for the jobs of many rural workers and their families who would then face great uncertainty in an employment marketplace neither as dynamic or diverse as that of an urban area. It could also have repercussions for family housing, with accommodation often tied with jobs. Scottish Government will have to weigh up whether the loss of employment for people who want to work, often in remote areas, is worth what it will recoup in rates. Singling out shoots and deer forests, solely, for an end to business rate exemptions sends out a clear signal from Scottish Government that it has a subjective preference for how land should be used. In summary, we have stated consistently that trying to alter the distribution pattern of ownership, as an end in itself of land reform, will actually have the unintended consequence of punishing hardest the rural working and their families. We would caution against this and its possible repercussions for community, cohesion, population and family life.
In 2013, Peter Fraser, highly respected stalker and SGA Vice President, authored the report, The Economic Importance of Red Deer to Scotland's Rural Economy which focused on deer stalking estates in Sutherland. Accumulated stalking income derived from the estates was £1.6 million. However, the wage bill was £2 million in the same period and the total cost of deer management (to protect crops, minimise environmental impact) was £4.7 million. Instead of being a drain on the public purse, the stalking estates in the report were delivering employment, housing, food, lardering and wider environmental protection at a level which, if passed to the exchequer, would quickly prove unsustainable. Similarly, it does not take Carol Vorderman to work out that, with red deer stalking incomes already diminishing in many parts of Scotland due to less deer, coupled with such moves to end rates exemptions, the likeliest way for a business to cope is by resorting to reduce the number of estate workers, and scale back operations. To substantiate this further, we refer to the 2014 report, The Benefits and Volume and Value of Country Sports Tourism in Scotland, prepared by independent consultants PACEC. Of the 675 respondents, who were providers of country sport activity in Scotland, just over a third of shooting and stalking providers (38%) said shooting at their sites was self-supporting and broke even, while 12% said it was profitable and 22% said it was loss-making but financed by other activities. Three quarters of the providers were open for less than 60 days in the year and in both shooting/stalking and fishing, respondents expressed similar future concerns over the general impacts of rising costs, the regulatory environment on the stock of quarry, value for money and the impact of regulations. We would suggest this is not in the public interest to increase costs for sporting providers at such a critical juncture. Neither would it be in any way beneficial to Scotland's environment or iconic wildlife.
In the 2013 paper, Economic Contribution of Estates in Scotland by Rural Solutions and SRUC, commissioned by SLE, of the 277 owner respondents, 186 from that 277 had some sporting interest on their estates. This supported 366 full time jobs and generated £12.4 million. However, expenditure was £16.9 million, including wages of £7.4 million. While this figure does not take account of additional ‘package’ revenue streams such as leisure and accommodation, which helps to make such sporting activity worthwhile, it is further evidence that estates are helping retain employment opportunities in communities; opportunities which other business models would struggle to sustain without significant financial assistance. Margins, then, are tight and measures such as the withdrawal of business rate exemptions for shoots and deer forests, are likely to tip the balance negatively for some.
In our estimation- if you scale up this respondent study to cover Scotland as a whole—this move, taken in tandem with other changes affecting sporting operations could lead to the loss of well over 100 sporting-only jobs in rural areas, at the outset, and potentially much more as accumulative regulations take hold. We form this view also from taking soundings from our members across the country. We know that, in 2015 already, for example, many estates with rivers are losing sporting lets due to lack of fish. This is very worrying in an industry worth over £110 million annually for Scotland. On top of this, the uncertainties of land reform plus the potential costs of rod licensing, proposed in the Scottish Government’s Wild Fisheries Review (running in tandem with Land Reform) have led- quite naturally- to a climate where there are business safeguards in scaling down staff. Similarly, in the wake of the first successful Vicarious Liability case, many smaller shoots now face new uncertainty as landowners do not want to end up in court for actions of third parties accessing or shooting on their land. The withdrawal of business rate exemptions, in the context of current challenges and accumulative changes already affecting sporting estates, we believe, would be a serious misreading of contemporary realities and will not be of economic benefit to rural Scotland. In discussions with Scottish Government Ministers on this very issue, we have been told that Scottish Government will defray some of this cost, helping to preserve employment. We look, however, to the stripping of wildlife ranger posts by Forestry Commission Scotland on the National Forest Estate over recent years as an indicator that we cannot guarantee to concerned members and their families that the public purse will pick up the tab or provide job safeguards in the same way they currently are.