Scottish retail industry leaders demand 'less piecemeal approach' to reviving Scotland's town centres

Retail industry leaders have demanded a “more coherent and less piecemeal approach” to regenerating Scotland’s town centres as the sector deals with the damaging fallout from coronavirus restrictions.

An empty Buchanan Street in the centre of Glasgow as people observe the lockdown during late March.
An empty Buchanan Street in the centre of Glasgow as people observe the lockdown during late March.

Publishing its consultation response to the Scottish Government’s review of the Town Centre Action Plan, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said high streets required a coherent approach in order to survive and potentially thrive.

The organisation noted that lockdown restrictions combined with the “necessary but costly” measures to manage physical distancing have put a large number of high street and city centre stores in peril.

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Bosses said some £2.1 billion of retail sales had been lost in Scotland over the past five months, exacerbated in part by the country’s longer lockdown compared with other parts of the UK. Shopper footfall in Scotland fell 54 per cent last month compared to the same period last year, the SRC added.

Last week, the latest sales monitor produced by the SRC and KPMG revealed that total sales in Scotland fell by 8.3 per cent during July, compared with the same month in 2019. Total food sales increased 3.5 per cent year-on-year, however total non-food sales tumbled 18.1 per cent.

Paul Martin, partner, UK head of retail at KPMG, warned that the coming months could be a crucial “make-or-break period” for many retailers.

In its consultation response, the SRC called for a less piecemeal approach to public policy towards town centres.

“Policies like costly business rates and restrictive and costly parking hamper efforts to revitalise town centres,” it noted. “One way to accomplish this would be through creating a standing body to bring policy consistency, as is seen in Wales and England.”

The group called for a revival of the Town Centres Fund “on a sustained basis”, including permitting Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to access it, as well as an early commitment from the Scottish Government to bring forward a relief or taper to prevent 100 per cent re-instatement of retail business rates come April.

David Lonsdale, Scottish Retail Consortium director, said: “The onset of coronavirus has significantly accelerated the transformation of the retail industry with a knock-on impact on town and city centres.

“Lower footfall, rising costs and shifting shopping habits have put the traditional high street model in jeopardy.

“Retail still has a role to play, but new investment will be needed to deliver more housing and community facilities in order to deliver vibrant and attractive places with compelling reasons for people to visit.

“There is nothing inevitable about the decline of town centres, but if ministers are serious about preventing closed up stores and gap-toothed high streets then action is needed swiftly. The alternative will be very difficult especially for larger towns and cities across Scotland.”

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‘Make-or-break’ for Scotland's retailers after fresh fall in high street sales

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