A Scottish high street renaissance could be around the corner if new Scottish Government funding is complemented with local business and public sector support, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
Following FSB campaigning, the Scottish Government has pledged £50million for high streets in their draft budget, which will be spent by Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
The small business campaign group is urging the funds to be focussed on diversifying the hardest pressed local high streets, suggesting a new co-investment fund to improve and convert existing properties. FSB’s calls come as it is reported that a Scottish shopping mall is for sale with a reserve of only £1.
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said: “The future of many Scottish high streets depends upon finding new uses for long-empty retail properties. The challenge is to make our town centres not just about shopping but also attractive places for working, living and socialising. That might mean turning an empty bank into a restaurant, a former supermarket into office space, or a long vacant shop unit into a flat.
“While the money allocated is not sufficient to transform every high street in the country, it should kick off a national debate about the future of these important local places. To maximise the economic impact, councils should focus on a small number of towns, working in partnership with local business and resident groups.”
The FSB highlights that a new co-investment fund would integrate well with the Scottish Government’s relatively new ‘Business Growth Accelerator’ rates relief, which reduces the rates burden of those that invest in their property. In addition, they argue Ministers should put additional pressure on public bodies to locate more of their staff and services on high streets.
Andrew McRae said: “There’s no reason why we can’t kick off a Scottish high street renaissance if we get our public and private sectors to back our town centres. With the Scottish Government already encouraging property investment, another nudge in the right direction could get the ball rolling.
“On the other hand we can’t see one part of government trying to boost a local economy while another withdraws footfall and spending power by closing their town centre estate. Ministers must come down hard on public bodies that undermine local high streets by closing their town centre premises.”
Separately, the FSB has written to the Scottish Government urging them to postpone their review into small business rates help, if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.
Andrew McRae said: “Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, smaller firms may have to grapple with rapidly changing trading conditions. In those circumstances, it won’t be appropriate to undertake a review into the rates relief on which so many rely.”