Few industries play such a crucial role as retail in keeping down costs for households, creating employment, and investing in our communities.
Retailers are responding to the continuing squeeze on household finances and strong industry-wide competition with keen prices, promotions and deals. Prices in shops have fallen for 13 consecutive months and food inflation is at its lowest recorded level.
The industry’s 255,000 jobs make it Scotland’s largest private sector employer.
The industry is working hard to sustain value for money and build on its great record on jobs and community investment, while adapting to the profound structural changes if faces. The fact that a broader range of indictors important to the health of Scotland’s retail industry have begun to point in a favourable direction is promising.
However support from Government will be key to maintaining this trend. The Scottish Government’s next Budget, to be unveiled this autumn, provides a great opportunity to assist.
At the heart of the Budget should be measures which help keep down the cost of doing business and cost of living, provide for a smarter regulatory environment, and give retailers the tools to grow.
Business rates should not rise faster than elsewhere in the UK, and the £95 million large retailer levy shelved. The Business Rates Incentivisation Scheme however needs to be rejuvenated, with the resulting revenues re-invested in town centre regeneration. The new taxes being devolved in 2015 must ensure Scotland remains a competitive place to invest.
Our building standards system is holding back retail expansion and job creation. A faster and more flexible approach would help shopkeepers get new or refurbished establishments trading promptly and spur much needed investment in retail premises, aiding high streets.
Meanwhile the proliferation of government-inspired self-regulation, voluntary agreements and codes of practice needs to be reined in. If Scottish Ministers receive any windfall “consequentials” as a result of UK spending decisions then this ought to be spent on better infrastructure and town centres.
• David Lonsdale is director of the Scottish Retail Consortium