Labour leader Richard Leonard has warned of “devastating job losses” and many firms going to the wall unless action is taken to tackle the situation.
The economy shrunk by a fifth north of the Border at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and bars and restaurants have been ordered to shut down across central Scotland in an effort to arrest the second wave of the virus. There are fears the end to the furlough scheme at the end of the month may be the final straw for many.
“All these crises spell potential economic ruin, not just for retail in the big city centres like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but in communities the length and breadth of Scotland,” Mr Leonard states in his Scotsman column today.
“The loss of once thriving stores, leaving boarded-up and empty properties in their wake, could turn whole communities into ghost towns.”
He added: “The Scottish Government must use its next budget to launch a ‘Save the Scottish high street’ fund, to offer substantial financial support to communities hit with large-scale shops closures and left with empty properties during Covid.”
A register of landlords of empty shops and properties should be launched, the Labour leader adds, with a revaluation of business rates for firms experiencing hardship and to help new start-ups.
But a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting town centres and the wider retail sector as they face the challenge of changing and evolving retail patterns, and have put in place a package of support worth over £2.3 billion to limit the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19).
“This includes 100 per cent rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and 1.6 per cent rates relief for all properties across Scotland. The Small Business Grant and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant funds are worth over £1 billion.
“Our £18 million Town Centre Fund capital stimulus builds on the £50m provided in 2019/20, enabling local authorities to stimulate and support place-based economic investments, which encourage town centres to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic."