Scottish Daily Mail

One in eight shops lies empty in ghost town high streets

- 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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