It is unsurprising and predictable for the large retailers to react angrily and with co-ordinated force against plans by the Scottish Government to impose a rates supplement on large stores. As the voice of convenience shops in Scotland, we urge the politicians and the large retailers not to allow a bitter row to obscure the crucial problems we are facing on Scotland’s High Streets.
Our high streets are suffering, with many vacant retail units. This is not just a problem of the recession; Scotland has had a longstanding supermarket problem.
Analysis recently conducted by leading retail data agency CACI shows supermarket saturation in many places in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. Badly planned out-of-town supermarkets cause the depopulation of our high streets and remove character and choice for Scottish consumers.
Our view is that the business rate system should incentivise those retailers, including supermarkets that choose to locate in towns. In town retailing is better for a whole range of reasons, firstly because town centres are places where a number of retailers can co-exist and compete offering genuine choice to the customer. They are better accessible through a range of transport facilities. They provide a focal point for the whole community; and an identity to the places where we live.
The business rate supplement scheme proposed by the Government that has drawn so much ire from the big retailers is clumsy and needs significant improvement, but the protestations of the major supermarkets have been over the top and misleading. The Scottish Government is right to be worried about the plight of in town retailing in Scotland. They should think creatively about how to redress the balance. Options they should consider include preferential business rates, rents and investments to improve amenities such as free car parking. They must also make sure that planning law strongly defends our town centres from the threat of out of town development.
These measures would encourage a quicker economic recovery. Retail is a key part of that recovery and that means all kinds of retail, big and small.
Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF)
Public Affairs Director
Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)