Business group criticises public-sector bodies who ‘undermine’ high streets

Ministers are being urged to “come down hard” on public-sector bodies which pull out of town-centre sites.

The Federation of Small Businesses said to help build a “high street renaissance” in Scotland the government should penalise those “public bodies that undermine local high streets by closing their town centre premises”.

Andrew McRae, the organisation’s Scottish policy chair, made the plea as he argued the future of many high streets now depended on finding new uses for empty shops.

These could be turned into restaurants, offices or homes as part of a bid to make “town centres not just about shopping but also attractive places to working, living and socialising”, he added.

Mr McRae spoke out after a shopping centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife, was reported to have been put up for sale with a reserve price of just £1.

The Scottish Government has already earmarked £50 million in its draft budget for 2019-20 to help transform struggling high streets up and down the country.

The FSB said the town centre fund, which was announced by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay in December, would not be “sufficient to transform every high street in the country, it should kick off a national debate about the future of these important local places”.

Mr McRae suggested that to “maximise the economic impact, councils should focus on a small number of towns, working in partnership with local business and resident groups”.

He stated: “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.”

The Scottish Retail Consortium, which represents the country’s retailers, has already called for councils to be able to use the £50 million town centre fund to cut business rates for high-street premises.