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Fall in number of retail jobs on Scotland’s high streets

David Lonsdale, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the sector is going through a period of profound change.

People shopping on Buchanan Street in Glasgow (John Linton/PA)
People shopping on Buchanan Street in Glasgow (John Linton/PA)

The number of people employed in retail jobs on Scotland’s high streets fell by almost 9% over six years, according to analysis.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics indicate there was a decline of 8.57% in the high street retail workforce between 2012 and 2017.

It was the second highest fall in the UK behind Wales which had a drop of 10%.

We have consistently said retail is going through a period of profound change and reinvention David Lonsdale, Scottish Retail Consortium

London was the only region to see a rise, increasing by 6.28%.

The ONS provided data for Scotland, Wales and nine regions of England including the North East, the West Midlands and London.

In all countries and regions for which analysis was collected, the number of jobs in the accommodation and food service sectors on high streets rose significantly.

In Scotland, the figure rose by around 24%, whilst the East Midlands saw the largest increase by 42%.

Across the UK, the number of businesses on the high street increased by 15% between 2012 and 2017, while there was a 22% increase in non-high street areas.

David Lonsdale, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the analysis highlights that the retail sector is going through a period of “profound change”.

“These disappointing, albeit hardly surprising, figures show just how challenging life is on Scotland’s high streets.

“We have consistently said retail is going through a period of profound change and reinvention as retailers adapt to new technology, changing consumer behaviour, squeezed household finances and rising costs.

“Despite all of this we are convinced retailers will continue to have a strong physical presence on thriving and attractive high streets, but less so than is the case now.

“That said, government policy is undoubtedly ratcheting up the cost of employing people in stores and the cost of maintaining a store presence.

“In turn this is making digital routes to market for retailers more attractive and affordable. This is upending many retail business models, and means the industry will look very different in the future.

“With the business poundage rate at a 20-year high and with over 5,000 retail premises paying more for the large firms supplement than their English counterparts, firm action is needed from both government and councils to cut the cost of doing business.”

Both of Scotland’s governments need to do more to reinvigorate the high streets at the heart of communities Katy Gordon, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Katy Gordon said: “We have seen a series of high-profile high street closures in the past few years. Firms are struggling as more customers move online and Brexit uncertainty hits pay packets.

“High street retail is undergoing a process of change and both of Scotland’s governments need to do more to reinvigorate the high streets at the heart of communities.

“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for shared service hubs to ensure communities retain access to critical facilities such as banking, as well as proper reform of the business rates system to encourage firms to maintain a high street presence.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting town centres as they face the challenge of changing and evolving retail patterns.

“That is why we have established a £50 million capital Town Centre Fund to enable local authorities to stimulate and support place-based economic investments which encourage town centres to diversify and flourish, creating footfall through local improvements and partnerships.

“This is part of a wider boost to the economy which includes £5 billion capital investment to grow and modernise Scotland’s infrastructure, as well as a wider package of support for businesses.

“The Scottish budget maintained the most generous package of reliefs in the UK, worth more than £750 million in 2019-20, up from £732 million in 2018-19.

“It also kept the poundage increase in 2019-20 below the consumer price index (CPI). This is lower than the multiplier increase announced for England and ensures that over 90% of properties in Scotland will pay a lower poundage than they would in other parts of the UK.”

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