Booze, gambling and payday lenders plummet in high streets

The number of off-licences in Scotland has dropped in the past year, according to the latest report on the retail and leisure industry.
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They have long been a mainstay of Scottish high streets but have come under fire in recent years over their effect on society.

Now the number of premises which fall under the “booze, money and gambling” category have plummeted in Scottish towns and cities, after a series of legal measures aimed at protecting consumers.

Numbers of off-licences, money lenders and betting shops in Scotland have reduced significantly in the past year, according to the latest report on the make-up of the retail and leisure industry.

Instead, the number of convenience stores and premises occupied by service and leisure businesses such as restaurants have increased, with an additional 325 such sites since 2013 in cities alone.

In towns, the proportion of business made up of these sectors reduced from 4.9 per cent in 2016 to 3.8 per cent in 2017; whilst the city index dropped from three per cent to 1.9 per cent over the same period - with the number of cheque cashing shops plummeting to just 23 in the whole country. Experts said the figures were an indicator that new legislative control, such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) crackdown on payday lenders in 2015 and looming restrictions on fixed odds betting terminals, is having an impact.

Meanwhile, the annual study, released today in Glasgow by the Local Data Company (LDC) and the University of Stirling, found that the number of vacant shops in Scotland’s towns and cities has risen this year to 11.9 per cent - the first time it has increased in the five years since the report began.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at LDC, said: “The reduction of charity shops is worthy of note, as is the reduction in the number of Booze, Money and Gambling outlets. This is one that many might not expect, but is something that has been a focus for the country’s politician’s and public health organisations.”

In 2015, the FCA introduced a range of measures, including a price cap on interest rates for payday lenders and limits on how many times a payday loan could roll over, in a bid to protect vulnerable customers. 
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Scottish Government was given powers to fix the number of fixed odds betting terminals, otherwise known as slot machines, in betting shops. Just last month, the UK government also announced that the maximum stakes on such will be reduced to reduce the potential for large losses on the machines. Glasgow still has the highest number of bookmakers with 41 stores in the city centre.

Charity shops also took a hit, dropping slightly from 2016, while the number of convenience stores rose by 20, Scotland-wide. Edinburgh still has more charity shops than Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness combined and accounts for 51 per cent of all Scottish charity shops in city locations.

The figures showed that vacancy rates in Scottish retail parks fell at the fastest rate of all British countries from 7.8 per cent in 2016 to 6.7 per cent in 2017, while Scottish shopping centre vacancy also improved. However, both rates remain at the highest level out of Scotland, England and Wales.

Professor Leigh Sparks, of the Institute for Retail Studies at the University of Stirling, said that the data raised questions as to whether the drop in overall occupancy was just a “pause in expansion” or a “reverse”. He said: “Town centres are always changing and it is vitally important to monitor and understand the dimensions of this change.”

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