RETAIL chiefs are demanding action from the Scottish Government after new figures showed one in ten shops is lying empty.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) accused the SNP administration of failing to act on business rates, claiming some larger supermarkets were facing bills that are almost a third higher than similar stores south of the Border.
SRC director Fiona Moriarty spoke out as figures showed 10.2 per cent of stores in Scotland were vacant in January – up from 9.1 per cent in the same month last year.
The total is lower than the UK national town centre vacancy rate of 10.9 per cent.
However, that fell from 11.3 per cent in October last year, while the Scottish rate increased from 9.9 per cent over the same period.
The Scottish vacancy rate is still significantly lower than both Northern Ireland and Wales, where 17.2 per cent and 17 per cent of store premises are empty respectively.
The SRC/Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor also showed shopper numbers in Scotland for January were down 4.6 per cent on the same month last year – the third-biggest fall in the UK.
That fall comes after a 6.2 per cent rise in the number of people visiting stores in December.
Ms Moriarty explained snow was the “main culprit for deterring Scottish shoppers in January”.
She added: “This didn’t actually translate into a weak showing for sales. The signs are that people planned well ahead for the bad weather and condensed their shopping into fewer trips.”
But Ms Moriarty said: “It’s not so easy to find a chink of light in the Scottish vacancy rate, which has edged up again to the point where more than one in ten shops are now lying empty in our town centres.
“If the Scottish Government wants to stem the tide of further closures, it should act now to abate the rising costs of doing business on our high streets in Scotland.
“Unfortunately, the government failed to act on business rates this year, which means that retailers will be hit by an additional £20 million in tax.
“This comes on the back of a cut in empty property rates relief whilst some larger supermarkets in Scotland are faced with a rates bill which is 28 per cent higher than the same store south of the Border.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government wants to see thriving town centres and is doing all it can to support the retail sector.
“We are introducing measures such as our Fresh Start scheme to bring empty properties back into use, and our town centre review is tackling some of the long-standing issues by working with local councils to put the life back into our high streets.
“In these tough times, we are maintaining Scotland’s position as the most supportive business environment in the UK and our small business bonus scheme and other reliefs provide zero or reduced business rates for 63 per cent of shops in Scotland.”
She added: “We are putting money into people’s pockets and supporting household incomes with a council tax freeze, the living wage for public sector workers and investing as much of our money as possible into public projects to create jobs.”