More than a fifth of Scots shopping centre units 'lying empty'

New figures 'underline torpid recovery' of Scotland's retail industry since the pandemic, chiefs warn.

More than a fifth of shopping centre units empty in Scotland, Scottish Retail Consortium figures show Getty Images

The number of empty shops in Scotland remains stuck at a fifth above pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest monthly figures.

Data from industry body the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) indicates the Scottish vacancy rate remained at 15.7% for the fourth consecutive quarter.

This is just was 0.1 percentage points higher than at the same point in 2022.

Shopping centre vacancies have worsened to 20.6% in 2023, from 20.5% in 2022, with high street vacancies remaining the same at 14.8%.

Retail park vacancies also remained unchanged at 9.8%.

SRC director David Lonsdale said the figures “underline the torpid recovery” in Scotland’s retail vacancy rate on the anniversary of shops reopening after the second Covid lockdown.

He said: “The level of unoccupied retail premises remains stuck at a fifth above pre-pandemic times and Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic has been weaker than in other nations and regions in Great Britain.

“This was the fourth successive quarter in which the proportion of empty units flatlined at elevated levels, and the ninth consecutive quarter with the vacancy rate above 15%.

“Retail parks were once again the stand-out performer, with shopping centres lagging.

“Several factors are holding back retailers and other firms from taking on empty stores, including the costs crunch and lower shopper footfall due to the shift towards hybrid working and online purchasing.”

Scottish Conservative economy spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “These figures show how far away Scottish businesses still are from recovering from the pandemic.

“Worse, the vacancy rates have not improved at all for a whole year.

“The SNP’s failure to pass on the 75% business rates relief being offered by the UK Government, despite having been given the money to do so, is a major factor in this.

“Hospitality, retail and leisure firms are thus at a significant disadvantage in Scotland.

“Unless the SNP government changes its stance they will be responsible for presiding over the demise of the High Street, with dreadful knock-on consequences for other parts of the Scottish economy.”

Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary Shona Robison said: “We recognise the enormous pressures facing businesses and the Scottish Government has been engaging, directly and through key business organisations, to best understand their needs.

“The Scottish Government recently launched a New Deal for Scottish Business that will provide an opportunity to discuss how government can better support businesses using the limited policy levers available. We have also set out a strong non-domestic rates package, including both a freeze to the poundage and reliefs, including the Small Business Bonus Scheme which provides over £95 million of relief to the retail sector, taking almost 29,000 shops out of rates altogether.

“Our retail strategy sets out how we will work with business and trade unions to deliver a strong retail sector, and contains specific actions to strengthen retail’s contribution to the economic and social success of our communities. This is in addition to the action we are taking to support our town and city centres, and help retailers and communities recover from the pandemic – not least through our £6 million City Centre Recovery Fund, the Town Centre Action Plan, support for the Scotland Loves Local gift card programme and Business Improvement Districts.”

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