Analysis: We should all go to town on our shopping sprees

ON WHAT is expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year, Scotland’s retailers will be hoping our fabled generosity will save their skins.

Fingers will be firmly crossed all along the high street that the unseasonally warm weather will encourage shoppers to shed pounds of the monetary type snapping up bargains from hot winter sales.

Sitting in a cosy bar surrounded by the sounds of Santa and fine Xmas cheer, it is hard not to question the unsustainability of a trading model that relies so heavily on the annual pilgrimage of demented parents, desperate husbands and bargain hunters willing to wait until retailers blink first and bring forward what used to be the Boxing Day sale. Surely, smart retailing is better than this, operating in an online, mobile-capable environment where nimble shoppers can choose buying channels at the click of a mouse?

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As the rest of the world has moved on around them, many of our town centres have been stuck in the past. Wedded to an operating model designed for the post-industrial, mass-movement mentality of an aspirant working class, the homogenous high street has largely failed to keep up.

Even our places of retail worship, shopping malls ironically devoid of soul, have come to rely on shoppers paying homage like the masses who flock to churches on Christmas Eve.

This will surely end in tears, with another wave of closures following the last-minute Christmas rush. We can do so much better than this, if we are to recognise the real importance of place, and nurture our town centres as the beating hearts of our local communities.

Yes, of course, retail has a role to play, and even an increasingly important one, but not the anonymous experience that characterises much of our high street. We need to have shops that are rooted in their communities, selling local produce that has a local footprint, not an environmentally challenging global one. We need stores with a supply chain that provides a solid financial foundation, planted firmly in the places in which they trade. We also need other activities, events and services that put the economic, social and cultural life blood back into our town centres.

As we ponder the difficult year that has been and the increasingly challenging economic context, is it possible to imagine a time in the not too distant future when our town centres will again be the places to be?

That is the central question which the Scottish Government’s regeneration strategy will be pondering as it seeks to design a way forward for these places we all call home.

• Ross Martin is policy director of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy.