Call for rates reform as shopper numbers drop

The number of people visiting Scotland's shops in February 2014 was down by over 4 per cent on 12 months ago. Picture: TSPL
The number of people visiting Scotland's shops in February 2014 was down by over 4 per cent on 12 months ago. Picture: TSPL
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RETAIL leaders have called for a comprehensive reform of the business rates system as new figures showed there has been a fall in shopper numbers.

The number of people visiting stores across Scotland in February was 4.1 per cent down on 12 months ago.

The decline in footfall figures north of the border was larger than that experienced in the UK as a whole, which saw a 2.9 per cent fall.

But Scotland fared better than both Northern Ireland and Wales, which suffered decreases of 5.1 per cent and 8.8 per cent in shopper numbers respectively.

The figures were produced for the British Retail Consortium/Springboard retail footfall monitor, which gathers data on customer activity in both high streets and out-of-town shopping centres.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said last month has seen a “disappointing acceleration of the recent downwards trend in shopper numbers”.

He added: “Scottish retailers will be examining this 4.1 per cent drop in footfall carefully and considering what steps could be taken to attract more people to town centres.”

Mr Lonsdale said stores north of the border had enjoyed “bumper retail sales” in January, despite shopper numbers falling that month.

“Until the February Scottish retail sales are published, we won’t know if this decrease in footfall has had a large impact on actual sales,” he said.

“Scottish retailers are increasingly expert at harnessing the internet and multi-channel innovations to get through to consumers who might not have time to travel to the shops.”

But he argued changes to the business rates system were required to help boost the retail sector.

Mr Lonsdale stated: “To really help the performance of Scottish high streets in particular, comprehensive reform of the near £3 billion business rates system is required in order to support retailers to invest further in improvements and local jobs.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland the best place to do business.

“That is why we are delivering the most competitive business tax environment anywhere in the UK and taking steps - through our Town Centre Action Plan - to ensure that our town centres are vibrant, attractive and safe places where local people and visitors alike want to spend their time and money.”