RETAIL bosses have called on the Scottish Government to “think more creatively and at greater scale” in order to entice shoppers back to city centres.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) suggested free parking, an advertising campaign or a high street voucher scheme could be used to boost spending.
It estimated stores have missed out on £4.5 billion of revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.
In evidence submitted to Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, the SRC said action to entice city centre shoppers back and early certainty over business taxes and regulation should be at the heart of the next Scottish Government Budget.
It called for a “modest discount” to business rates in 2022/23 and a “route map towards lowering the poundage to a permanently more sustainable level”.
The trade association also pushed for early progress on the SNP’s manifesto pledge to level the playing field with England on business rates for larger premises.
Elsewhere, the SRC called for a pause on the introduction of new regulation and workplace parking levies, and insisted “any notion of introducing a regulatory prohibition on shops from opening to customers on New Year’s Day ought to be shelved”.
In June, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on whether the current law should change to restrict large retailers from trading on New Year’s Day, as is the case on Christmas Day.
The SRC said shopper footfall remains 27 per cent below pre-pandemic levels and shop vacancies have spiked to a six-year high.
Non-food stores “are still trading at only 90% of what they did prior to the pandemic”, it said.
In evidence to the committee, the SRC continued: “Retailers are playing their part in trying to tempt shoppers back, however policymakers could do more to help reignite consumer confidence and entice people back, especially ahead of the crucial ‘golden quarter’ of pre-Christmas shopping (Oct-Dec).
“This is traditionally when retailers generate the funds required to tide them through the leaner period in the early months of the new year.
“The £2 million Scotland Loves Local Fund for 2021/22 is a promising move to enhance the viability of our town centres, however this shouldn’t be the limit of our ambition – policymakers need to think more creatively and at greater scale about enticing shoppers back e.g. perhaps through temporary free parking, and/or a government advertising campaign to encourage people back to city centres, and/or a high street voucher scheme as the Northern Ireland Executive is introducing.”
It said the latter could “trigger additional spending by shoppers beyond the value of the voucher transaction and create an even larger economic multiplier”.
David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: “The past seventeen months of the Covid pandemic has been the most challenging and tumultuous period for Scotland’s retail industry in recent decades, with sharp consequences for large swathes of the industry.
“The backing that has been on offer from government during the crisis has been substantial, however continued support for the industry will be crucial as it seeks to recover and navigate the continued uncertainty, looming headwinds, and changing shopping habits.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We acknowledge the tough trading conditions Scotland’s retail industry has been dealing with, which is why the Scottish Government has provided £3.7 billion to help businesses cope with the impact of Covid-19.
“We continue to support retailers and other businesses as we rebuild the economy following the pandemic, including through the work of the retail strategy and City Centre Recovery Taskforce, as well as the Scotland Loves Local (SLL) Fund which is part of a £10 million multi-year support programme and will increase footfall and activity while revitalising local places and town centres by encouraging communities to think, choose and love local.”