A severe haemorrhaging of Scottish retail jobs and shops has sparked calls for more supportive policies from Holyrood and the UK government for traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping.
The call to arms from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) follows Holyrood’s recently released annual business statistics revealing that the retail sector has shed 10,000 jobs over the past seven years to 250,300 – a 4 per cent fall.
There has also been a 7 per cent slide in the number of Scottish shops to 22,600 from 24,300 since 2009. During that time, the SRC said the sector’s contribution to the economy has grown from £6.1 billion to £7bn – up 12 per cent.
SRC director David Lonsdale said: “Retail is the largest contributor in the services sector to the Scottish economy. But these figures show just how significantly the Scottish retail industry is changing.
“Changing shopping habits, new technology, tough competition and government policies are leading retailers to focus on operating in the most productive way possible, which regrettably involves fewer jobs and fewer shops.
“These lost jobs are not just a consequence of the changes in retail. The consequence of public policy from the UK and Scottish governments is that people and property in particular are becoming comparatively expensive compared to investment in digital and technology.”
The SRC, which recently submitted its recommendations to the Scottish Government for its budget and spending review, has cited the national living wage, the new apprenticeship levy coming in next spring, higher employer pension contributions and “relentlessly” rising business rates as major concerns for high street outlets.
Lonsdale said it was making retailers look at their productivity and often opt for cheaper investment in IT than bricks-and-mortar shops.
He said this has “profound consequences” for employment prospects in communities more reliant on retail jobs and town centres.
The SRC’s campaign comes as it was reported last week that Scotland will have lost more than 140 bank branches over an 18-month period by the end of this year.
A total of 112 Scottish high street bank branches have closed since July 2015, with a further 33 due to close their doors by December, according to BBC research.
Lonsdale said the bank branch closures, in addition to the shop closures, showed the rate of structural change within consumer-facing industries “is quickening”.
He added that Holyrood and the retail industry need to deliver “a joint industry strategy” that would help the sector deliver its potential over the coming decade.