Retail sector urges new first minister to help ‘revitalise’ high streets

It came as the Scottish Retail Consortium revealed a decrease in shopper footfall for the seventh consecutive month.

Retail industry urges new first minister to help ‘revitalise’ high streets PA Media

The next first minister must “prioritise economic growth” to mitigate reduced footfall in Scottish shops, a retail body has said.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said whoever is next to lead the Scottish Government must also “scrap the mooted public health surtax on grocers”.

It comes as the SRC revealed shop footfall decreased by 3.6% last month when compared with the previous April.

That was the seventh consecutive month where stores in Scotland have seen a reduction in shoppers.

It remains better than the UK average, which saw a decrease of 7.2% year-on-year in April.

For March and April 2024 combined, the SRC says Scottish footfall decreased by 2.2% year-on-year.

Footfall in shopping centres decreased by 4.7% – 3.5 percentage points worse than March.

The number of people visiting stores in Edinburgh increased by 2.3% in April, contrasting with the rest of Scotland.

David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: “This comes at a tricky time for many stores with business rates bills landing firmly on doorsteps.

“Four-and-a-half thousand Scottish shops have just seen an extra £31m added to their annual rates bills, a cause for concern given the weakness in revenues from shoppers.

“At the same time, the regulatory burden facing retailers continues to swell and grocers are facing the threat of a business rate surtax to help plug a gap in the devolved Government’s finances.

“Hopefully, the next first minister will prioritise economic growth and bring a more coherent approach to revitalising our high streets and retail destinations.

“Central to this should be a plan to ease the regulatory burden, scrap the mooted public health surtax on grocers, and finally deliver on the pledge to restore business rates parity with England for medium-sized and larger commercial premises.

“The lack of rates parity costs Scotland’s retailers £9m a year, cash which isn’t available for improvements to stores or customer service.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “After an early Easter fuelled improved footfall performance in March, there is little doubt lacklustre levels of store visits in April will have come as a blow for many retailers.

“Whilst a drop in traffic may have been expected due to Easter falling early and the May bank holiday falling late, this will have been of little consolation.

“An exceptionally wet April also seems to have dampened many shoppers’ appetite for spending, especially in outlet and outdoor-focused retailers.

“However, with financial pressures starting to ease for some, and indications of growing consumer confidence being reported, we will have to look forward to May to see if that filters through to improved in-store shopping.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that engagement with the New Deal for Business Non-Domestic Rates sub-group continues to explore how the non-domestic rates system can best support business growth, investment and competitiveness, while acknowledging the important role income from non-domestic rates plays in funding public services.

“In 2024-25, the Basic Property Rate, applying to properties with rateable values up to and including £51,000, has been frozen, delivering the lowest such rate in the UK for the sixth year in a row. The Small Business Bonus Scheme offering up to 100% relief from non-domestic rates has been maintained and continues to be the most generous scheme of its kind in the UK.

“Scotland has the most progressive income tax system in the UK, protecting those who earn less and asking those who earn more to contribute more, while raising substantial additional revenue to invest in public services.”

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