One in eight shops lies empty in ghost town high streets

Scottish Daily Mail - - Life - By Rachel Wat­son Deputy Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

THOU­SANDS of shops across Scot­land lie empty – with one in eight re­tail spa­ces va­cant.

In the worst-hit ar­eas, as many as a quar­ter of shops are empty.

Fig­ures re­leased by the Univer­sity of Stir­ling with the Lo­cal Data Com­pany show 12.6 per cent of re­tail prop­er­ties are va­cant across Scot­land.

Some towns had a small drop in empty re­tail spa­ces but the num­ber of va­cant shops in cities con­tin­ues to climb.

Crit­ics at­tacked the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment for its ‘anti-busi­ness’ at­ti­tude. But Holy­rood in­sisted it was sup­port­ing lo­cal re­tail­ers and in­stead blamed the UK Gov­ern­ment’s ‘aus­ter­ity poli­cies’ and con­fu­sion over Brexit.

The SNP has dou­bled the large busi­ness sup­ple­ment – a tax on com­pa­nies with a rate­able value over £35,000.

Scot­tish Tory econ­omy spokesman Dean Lock­hart called the find­ings ‘ex­tremely wor­ry­ing’, adding: ‘Shops are the lifeblood of high streets across the coun­try. In­stead of hik­ing busi­ness

‘SNP should be do­ing all it can’

rates, the SNP should be do­ing all it can to as­sist these busi­nesses.’

Brechin, An­gus, has Scot­land’s high­est va­cancy rate with a quar­ter of shops empty, up from 22.3 per cent last year. Dundee was the worst-hit city, with 22 per cent of re­tail spa­ces un­used.

The wor­ry­ing fig­ures come only days be­fore Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Derek Mackay un­veils the year’s Scot­tish Bud­get. He has faced calls from in­dus­try ex­perts to re­verse this year’s change, which saw the large busi­ness sup­ple­ment dou­bled from 1.3p to 2.6p in the pound.

The Scot­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium (SRC) said this would re­sult in re­tail­ers pay­ing an ex­tra £15mil­lion a year and leave them worse off than busi­nesses else­where in the UK.

Ewan MacDon­ald-Rus­sell, SRC head of pol­icy, said: ‘For too long re­tail­ers have been seen as an easy source of tax re­ceipts.

‘If busi­ness rates con­tinue to es­ca­late, we should be con­cerned about the in­vest­ment-sap­ping im­pact on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

‘Fewer shops and fewer re­tail jobs are in no one’s in­ter­est.’

While the av­er­age va­cancy rate in Scot­tish towns fell 0.6 per cent this year, in cities it has risen by 0.3 per cent. In­ver­ness was the only city to avoid a rise in va­can­cies, with a drop of 2.9 per cent. The big­gest in­crease in va­can­cies was a rise of 7.6 per cent in Cow­den­beath, Fife. Some ar­eas did im­prove, with va­cancy rates fall­ing in East Kil­bride and Troon, Ayr­shire, by 16 per cent and 8.1 per cent re­spec­tively.

Ear­lier this year it was re­vealed that 4,630 re­tail work­ers in Scot­land have lost their jobs since 2014. Ex­perts blamed con­sumer spend­ing pat­terns, but also said changes to the large busi­ness sup­ple­ment had forced en­ter­prises to cut staff.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said: ‘Cir­cum­stances re­main dif­fi­cult in a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties that face spe­cific chal­lenges. Ear­lier this year, we an­nounced a £100mil­lion stim­u­lus pack­age in­clud­ing £10mil­lion for lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects in four towns.

‘Our ef­forts risk be­ing un­der­mined by the UK Gov­ern­ment’s aus­ter­ity poli­cies – and the cur­rent lack of any co­her­ent plan of ac­tion in the af­ter­math of the EU ref­er­en­dum.’

THE prog­no­sis for Scot­land’s econ­omy could hardly be bleaker than yes­ter­day’s fore­cast for two more years of stag­na­tion.

The Fraser of Al­lan­der In­sti­tute warns that slug­gish rates of growth will con­tinue un­til 2019 with­out ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion.

Its re­port re­veals that Scot­land’s econ­omy is grow­ing at only one-third the rate of the UK as a whole.

The ex­perts also call for the SNP to use new tax pow­ers and give busi­nesses a much-needed boost.

An­other strik­ing piece of ev­i­dence il­lus­trat­ing the eco­nomic malaise emerged in shock­ing re­tail sta­tis­tics pub­lished yes­ter­day. Thou­sands of shops across Scot­land are ly­ing empty, with one in eight cur­rently va­cant – ris­ing to one in four in some ar­eas.

Our mori­bund high streets are one vis­i­ble out­ward sign of an econ­omy in the dol­drums, as is the eye-wa­ter­ing scale of our de­pen­dency cul­ture.

Ear­lier this month, Scot­land’s wel­fare bill passed £23bil­lion for the first time – while the SNP plots an in­creas­ingly gen­er­ous sys­tem.

Mean­while, ahead of Thurs­day’s Scot­tish Bud­get, coun­cil bosses are warn­ing their own bud­gets could be cut by £700mil­lion by the end of the cur­rent par­lia­ment.

But such shroud-wav­ing may be hard for tax­pay­ers to stom­ach af­ter it emerged that Falkirk Coun­cil paid hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees for hours they did not work – de­spite fac­ing a fi­nan­cial black hole of more than £60mil­lion.

Fat cat coun­cil chiefs on six-fig­ure salar­ies, en­joy­ing gold-plated pen­sions, hardly sound cred­i­ble when they talk of a cash cri­sis for lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

The scale of Gov­ern­ment waste – amount­ing to al­most £1bil­lion over the past decade – is also a shame­ful in­dict­ment of the SNP’s ap­palling mis­man­age­ment of the pub­lic fi­nances.

As Gra­ham Grant ar­gues else­where on this page, there is a press­ing need for bold, in­no­va­tive ac­tion from our par­lia­ment to kick-start the econ­omy.

The UK Gov­ern­ment has acted to pre­vent ‘fis­cal drag’ – ever-greater num­bers of pro­fes­sion­als be­ing drawn into the higher rate tax bracket.

But the SNP, show­ing a lack of vi­sion and a fa­mil­iar con­tempt for mid­dle-class Scots, is in­tent on en­sur­ing that higher earn­ers in Scot­land will pay more tax than their peers south of the Bor­der.

Even An­drew Wil­son – hand-picked by Ni­cola Stur­geon to be a key eco­nomic ad­viser – is sound­ing the alarm over the SNP’s tax grab. His con­cern that the strat­egy risks de­ter­ring higher earn­ers from set­tling in Scot­land is en­tirely valid – we can only hope the First Min­is­ter is listening.

How de­press­ingly pre­dictable that the Left-wing con­sen­sus at Holy­rood should em­brace an all-out as­sault on wealth cre­ation.

It is in­cum­bent on the SNP to re­sist the urge to pla­cate its power­base by pe­nal­is­ing the ‘wealthy’ – in re­al­ity, hard-work­ing pro­fes­sion­als, many of whom are iron­i­cally on the pay­roll of our bloated pub­lic sec­tor.

Miss Stur­geon must for once set aside party trib­al­ism on Thurs­day and re­verse a counter-pro­duc­tive plan that will pun­ish mid­dle-class house­holds – and throw our econ­omy into fur­ther dis­ar­ray.

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