Kiss of Life – or Death – for Scotland’s High Streets?

I see ‘retail chiefs’ are now demanding action from the Scottish Government after the latest figures show 10% of shops across Scotland are now empty (http://m.stv.tv/news/scotland/214348-retailers-call-for-help-as-figures-show-one-in-ten-shops-is-empty/). And the resulting flurry of social media chat where some folk claimed that, in their neighbourhoods, only 10% were occupied!

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) has accused the Scottish Government of failing to deliver for retailers. I am not surprised. This time last year, I wrote to the Government highlighting the work I was undertaking that could significantly benefit Scottish town centres and High Streets. Sadly, the Cabinet Secretary had “a number of competing diary pressures over the next few months” and was “not available“. Ho hum.

(Note to self: must ensure I’m busy for the next few months to avoid any annoyances.)

The Scottish void rate may be lower than the rest of the UK (10.2% Vs 10.9%) but it has increased by 1.1% in just 12 months.  That is a figure that is easy to write and easy to read. But when it comes to livelihoods, jobs, affected families and communities, 1.1% means a lot of shops closing with massive knock-on consequences.

Fiona Moriarty, Director of the SRC, rightly says the Scottish Government should act now to address the rising costs of doing business on Scotland’s High Streets – and to halt the tide of more closures. I was then amused – and somewhat sickened – to read that a Scottish Government ‘spokeswoman’ (best to keep things anonymous don’t you think?) announced: “The Scottish Government wants to see thriving town centres and is doing all it can to support the retail sector.” Really? All it can? Absolutely everything?

Then came the crunch words: “We are … working with local councils to put the life back into our high streets.” Oh good.

I am not being unkind to councils, but from my experience – and I have spent over 20 years in the UK’s retail and commercial property sector – I have yet to find a council (apart from a very few innovative exceptions) that will “put the life” back into anything very much.

And who is missing from this equation, yet again? That will be the shopper. Who ever asks shoppers what they think/want/expect/need? It is the shopper who is deserting the High Street. It is the shopper who is taking their money and spending elsewhere.

Still, I’m sure by the time Cabinet Secretaries have fewer “competing diary pressures”, Councils and Government will be on hand to administer the kiss of life. The only problem with that timetable is, by then, more High Street patients will have been pronounced dead.

simon@destination66.co.uk  /  https://twitter.com/destination66

 

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