I take the opportunity to remind members that Covid-related measures are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02442, in the name of Tom Arthur, on Scotland Loves Local. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon possible, or to place an R in the chat function if they are joining us online.
I am delighted to bring this debate to Parliament, which allows all MSPs the opportunity to show their support for the Scotland Loves Local campaign, which supports local businesses, jobs and building community wealth. Now—the run up to Christmas—is a good time to reflect on that.
The past 21 months has taught us a lot about what really matters. We have all lived our lives a bit closer to our homes, appreciated more what is on our doorstep, rediscovered green spaces, our local shops and businesses, and reconnected to our local communities and all that they have to offer.
Our constituents, communities and local businesses the length and breadth of the country have rolled up their sleeves, mobilised and worked creatively, and with agility, to develop local solutions to look after one another and support those who need it.
We have realised that being able to go to the shops and buy whatever we need is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Today, I want to celebrate the contribution of our local businesses and communities to Scottish life, in supporting us and in providing opportunity and employment. I ask Parliament to support us to do the same in return.
Loving local is not only about helping people to live well locally. It also has so much potential to support our strategic ambitions for a just transition to net zero, an inclusive wellbeing economy and tackling inequality. It is about bringing the Government’s programmes together in each place to deliver shared priorities.
Our joint ambition must be a future that has good places and localism at its heart—where we embrace local supply chains, build community wealth by getting behind local businesses and enterprises, support community regeneration, revive our town centres, grow accessible transport, active travel and services, work together with communities and move towards net zero in everything that we do.
Our shared experience during the pandemic has demonstrated the potential of local communities and businesses to use their local knowledge, expertise and commitment to successfully respond and adapt to big challenges in their own way.
The pandemic has highlighted the extent to which local economies are determined by their context—the characteristics of a place and the people who live there, and the regional and national policy framework in which they operate. That is why we take a place-based approach.
At its heart, any place-based approach is simply a practical way of looking at how to tackle challenges and take advantage of opportunities at a scale that is meaningful and helpful. To support places, we need to really understand the everyday experience of people’s lives, and to respond with local initiatives that are designed to improve the lives of businesses and communities across Scotland—in our cities, towns, neighbourhoods and rural and island geographies.
I am therefore pleased that this year we have been able to launch our Scotland Loves Local programme, which aims to encourage people to think and choose local. The £10 million, multi-year programme is designed to support recovery and to influence behaviours in order to embed the loves local culture that we started to witness during the pandemic. The programme encourages a safe return to our town and city centres, while taking care to follow guidelines to look after one other.
I look forward to seeing the benefits of that funding, as I am sure we all are. It enables projects that support local businesses to love local in the festive season, such as digital trails in Oban; projects to improve town and city centres, such as streetscape improvements in Dunoon; a cultural and arts project in Helensburgh; and a marketplace project in the Western Isles.
Ahead of small business Saturday last weekend, the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, urged people to support their local independent traders this festive season.
I do not know what motivated that intervention. To be honest, I think that this is an opportunity to celebrate our local businesses and local communities, and that is the tone that I will set at the start of the debate. It will be up to the member whether he wishes to follow suit.
I encourage members, as well as supporting their local communities, to encourage their constituents and their family members to buy the Scotland Loves Local gift card for loved ones this Christmas. It is an innovative way of keeping spend local for longer and enabling people to treat themselves to the best retail, hospitality and experiences on offer in their area, whether in store or online, as long as the online business has a bricks-and-mortar presence in the local authority area.
In June, I was delighted to be able to launch the Scotland Loves Local awards. Recently, I was very pleased to see the wide range of winners who were presented with their awards at the Scotland’s Towns Partnership conference, which I attended. The awards recognise and thank some of the people who work tirelessly to support the resilience and vitality of our town centres, whether by embracing creativity, committing to tackling climate change or being a hero for their high street. I congratulate all the award winners. I will highlight a couple of examples of their work.
I congratulate East Ayrshire Council and Kilmarnock business association, which were awarded a judges’ special prize in recognition of the wide-ranging impact of the local gift card on fuelling local recovery. I say well done to the young people in Strathearn and Strathallan who developed a community radio station that broadcasts locally. Their award recognised the talent that the station champions and their creation of a community hub, which promotes local businesses and creates jobs, thus helping the local economy.
Looking to the future, we are exploring the opportunity to support low-income households using loves local cards, through a pilot project with Citizens Advice Scotland. The project seeks to offer an alternative to food bank referrals and works alongside our primary cash-first response to the need to reduce food insecurity. It is an example of our work across portfolios on our overall localism ambition, which our Scotland Loves Local programme supports.
Continuing with support for businesses across portfolios, we are working with Scotland’s Towns Partnership to support our local food and drink sector by encouraging retailers to buy locally and source more Scottish produce and by raising consumer awareness of our fantastic local offerings.
We have also worked on a range of initiatives to support local tourism recovery. They include the destination and sector marketing fund; the ScotSpirit holiday voucher programme, which represents social tourism at its best; and the tourism and hospitality talent development programme, which is designed to motivate and develop local talent. We have also allocated £4 million to the days out incentive scheme.
So that loving local can become a long-term strategic approach, we are working collaboratively through our community wealth building approach, the draft fourth national planning framework, “Housing to 2040”, the town centre review and the route map to deliver car kilometre reductions in order to set out our vision of creating places that people enjoy and where they want to live, work and settle. We want to create places where people can thrive and bring up families, that meet their needs locally and that support their health and wellbeing. That is why we will take action to make housing and places work together seamlessly so that people can live in communities and 20-minute neighbourhoods, with ease of access to their thriving town and city centres via public transport and active travel.
Collaboration and partnership are and will continue to be vital to everything that we do. Our business improvement districts are a good example of the Scotland Loves Local approach and are a mechanism for businesses to work together with their communities. The BIDs’ hyperlocal knowledge, leadership and partnership have ensured that many of our cities, town centres and neighbourhoods have remained resilient.
For example, the Stirling and Alloa BIDs led strategic partnerships, with their local authorities and chambers of commerce, to provide support with personal protective equipment and emergency grants to their members. BID4Oban led a town-wide communication and support campaign and set up a business counselling service to support struggling business owners, and the service was then made available to businesses nationally.
The action that communities have taken in response to the pandemic is recognised in our Covid recovery strategy as a key part of the resilience of our communities. ?Communities have used their distinct local knowledge, expertise and commitment to successfully respond and adapt to big challenges in their own way.? Our vision for community-led regeneration, supported by our place-based investment and empowering communities programmes, enables our communities to help shape their own futures. The investment is helping them to develop community assets, enabling them to generate income and in turn supporting the creation of new jobs and access to services that benefit the people in their communities.
Obviously, there have been successful examples of that across Scotland, although others are less successful. How many new jobs does the minister hope might be created through some of the work that the Scottish Government and local councils are doing to regenerate high streets?
I cannot give an exact number but, although the regeneration of high streets is an important aspect, we have to be more ambitious and look more broadly at the community wealth building model and the opportunities that it presents. It is about leveraging big-spending public bodies locally to support small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises. We can have more money circulating in our local economies, and a move away from the wealth extraction model. The opportunities are really quite exciting.
As we advance the community wealth building agenda in this session of Parliament, all parties can come together and work on that. I commend the excellent work that is taking place in local authorities across Scotland that are led by political parties of all persuasions in supporting the community wealth building agenda. As I say, the potential for supporting dynamic local economies and jobs growth is limitless, and I hope that we can work on that constructively throughout this session.
We cannot achieve our ambitions without working with and for our communities, or without real participation and engagement and harnessing our collective resources for local impact.
Before I conclude, I want to say that I am looking forward to presenting the SURF—Scotland’s Regeneration Forum—awards tomorrow and to meeting some of the people who will receive the awards and hearing more about their endeavours and the conditions required for success. The awards provide welcome recognition for those who support their community to thrive. That is what Scotland Loves Local is all about.
We should not lose sight of the sense of connectedness, belonging and strength that our local communities and businesses have shown. I hope that members will support the loves local ambition and will encourage their constituents to do so, too, by safely visiting local markets, shops and businesses if they can, and by enjoying all that their local neighbourhood has to offer. In moving the motion, I ask us all to think globally and to live and love locally.
That the Parliament supports the ambition to love local and enable people to live well in their communities by encouraging people to think and choose local, supporting local businesses and jobs and building community wealth; commends the efforts of communities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in working together to support each other and local businesses; congratulates the winners of the Scotland Loves Local awards announced in November 2021, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitments on 20-minute neighbourhoods, the transformation of safe spaces for walking, wheeling and cycling, a just transition to net zero, an inclusive wellbeing economy, tackling inequality, and community-led regeneration.
We have a bit of time in hand, so I encourage members to make and take interventions—members will get the time back for that. I give a gentle reminder to the members who want to participate in the debate but who have not yet pressed their request-to-speak button that they should do so as soon as possible.
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am still a councillor at Aberdeen City Council.
It is absolutely right that we recognise the contribution that our local producers continue to make to our economy and to the wellbeing of our communities. I add my congratulations to everyone who is up for an award at the event tomorrow night that the minister mentioned.
Over the past two years, businesses and citizens have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. Figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium show that, in November, footfall in Glasgow city centre, for example, was down 22 per cent compared with that in the equivalent period in 2019. That picture has been replicated across Scotland over the past couple of years. More and more people are switching to online shopping as a result of the pandemic, with obvious consequences for our high streets. Today, the Conservative Party is offering not just welcome words but concrete policy solutions to help our struggling high streets and food sectors.
Last month, 13 industry bodies wrote to Kate Forbes asking for rates relief for retail businesses to be included in her budget tomorrow. The organisations warned the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy that the retail industry potentially faces scarring from the pandemic for years to come and that the many challenges that businesses are facing would be “insurmountable” without direct Scottish Government help.
Does the member acknowledge that the 100 per cent rates relief for retail and hospitality businesses this year has been far more generous than the relief that has been provided by any other part of the United Kingdom?
Absolutely—it is fantastic that the UK Government has been able to provide the devolved Government with so much money that it has been able to offer that relief. Businesses are concerned with what will be in this year’s budget and what relief will be provided. The Scottish Government needs to listen and act on that.
In November, shop vacancy rates hit a six-year high, at 16 per cent. The latest Scottish Retail Consortium and Local Data Company figures show that, on the high street, the number of vacancies is still on the increase. The Scottish Government needs to act on that, too.
According to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities, to which many retailers turn for help, have had a real-terms reduction in general funding of about 20 per cent, once additional obligations have been factored in. However, instead of helping local authorities to release funding for high streets, the Scottish National Party devolved Government’s solution is to further ring fence funding for projects through Holyrood diktat. No longer can local authorities focus on local solutions to local problems; instead, they have their hands tied behind their backs with ring-fenced funding for national projects.
The SNP devolved Government talks a lot about partnership working, yet the bodies that do more to protect our high streets than any others are our local authorities, and the SNP continues to reduce their funding hand over fist.
It is fantastic that the member brings up that issue, because that pedestrianisation project can go ahead only because of £20 million from the UK Government’s levelling up fund. The administration in Aberdeen is looking to enhance the area, whereas the SNP just has talk and wants to manage decline.
If the SNP were serious about protecting our communities, it would be giving local authorities the fair funding settlement that they have asked for. I hope—but doubt—that the finance secretary will have good news for our friends and colleagues in local government tomorrow.
Of course, the issues for our local high streets did not start in the past two years; they have faced challenges for the past 14 years. Many major brands have moved to out-of-town sites or online. That is another example of the SNP taking its eye off the ball.
To rebuild our communities following the pandemic, we need to tackle the long-standing problems that have emptied our high streets and undermined local businesses—high business rates, poor infrastructure and overzealous planning policy. We need to transform our high streets into more diverse places where people can go to live, work, eat, do activities and shop, but councils need Government assistance to be able to do that.
Local authorities were given the ability to introduce rate rebate schemes, which, as a leader of a local authority, I was itching to use. They were given that power, but they were not given the ability to raise funds to pay for any scheme. It was just a way for the Scottish Government to pass the buck to local authorities.
From his perspective of being a leader in a council administration, the member raises an interesting point about challenges around the allocation of money and the limited ability to raise funding. Does he recognise that the Scottish Government finds itself in that position? With that in mind, if he wishes to see further funding for local government, from what other portfolios would he take it? For example, the member still supports all health consequentials going to the national health service.
It is rather strange to hear an SNP minister talking about how the Scottish Government can spend its money, when we see the amount of ring fencing that local government has. If the same amount of ring fencing came to a Scottish Government budget, I am sure that we would hear it talked about loudly.
We need to look at ways to exempt high streets and town centres from business rates and relax planning laws for redevelopment in those areas. Our manifesto was packed full of measures to help our high streets, which included changes to the small business bonus scheme; delaying the introduction of new non-Covid business regulations until 2023; and superfast fibre broadband to all businesses by 2027. In food production, we promised a Scotland first approach—a national food strategy to promote local produce and double the size of the food and drink sector by 2030—and a farm to fork review of Scotland’s food policy as a key element of Covid recovery.
The purpose of those policies is to boost demand for Scottish produce; strengthen the bargaining powers of producers, supporting them to upscale and export; better label Scottish produce—even clootie dumplings—and ensure that public procurement utilises Scottish produce whenever possible.
We want to promote Scottish produce at home and abroad, without fear of a Twitter onslaught or threats against those businesses. I ask the minister to join me today in condemning those who damage Scottish businesses by attacking and threatening them on social media just because they dare to promote Scottish goods in England on small business Saturday.
What we have today from the devolved Scottish Government is a motion that contains no commitments at all—no policy drivers, no help for local authorities and no funding to help our worn-out high streets. One shop owner in a small town in the Borders posted on Facebook the other day just how exhausted she was and how much the pandemic had hurt, not just financially but emotionally—she has had sleepless nights, fears of another lockdown, and worry about her staff and her supply chains.
It is not just about finances for many of those businesses, but about their heart and soul, their family businesses and the contribution that they are making to their communities. All those businesses look for is a bit of help and light at the end of the tunnel, not just warm words and platitudes.
Tomorrow, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will set out the Scottish Government budget for the next year. I hope that it will include some of the measures that I have mentioned. I hope that it will provide funding and support for our small businesses as well as a bit of reassurance about the future, which our businesses are looking for. I hope that it will also provide for the great work of our business improvement districts—I completely agree with the minister on that point—and that it will give more funding to local government so that we can get on with the business of supporting our high streets. Warm words are great, but we want action.
I move amendment S6M-02442.2, to leave out from “and welcomes” to end and insert:
“; notes with concern Scottish Retail Consortium figures, which indicate that footfall for November 2021 was down by a fifth from November 2019; recognises, however, that Scotland’s high streets and town centres were struggling long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and calls on the Scottish Government to deliver a budget on 9 December for 2022-23 that will drive local recovery by extending 75% non-domestic rates relief to retail, leisure, newspaper and hospitality businesses, and deliver a fair funding settlement to local authorities, so that they can properly invest in regenerating and supporting high streets and town centres.”
It is a privilege to represent South Scotland. The region does not have any cities yet, but it has many unique, proud and diverse towns and places.
Prior to being an MSP, I had the privilege of being a councillor on Dumfries and Galloway Council, representing the Dumfries town centre ward of Nith for a decade. When I was elected in 2007, a major developer was on the cusp of building a new shopping centre in the town, with Debenhams as the anchor shop. To support the project, the council bought a shop on Dumfries High Street on land that would have been the entrance to the planned centre. Then, the global economic crisis landed, the recession began and our high streets were hit hard. The developer’s plans were dropped.
Since then, the council has taken a number of initiatives to support town and village centres, many of which I am pleased to have proposed, including a town centre housing fund and various public realm improvements. Those interventions were an attempt to make our towns that bit more attractive, and to recognise that after 40 years of retail growth—increasingly on greenfield out-of-town sites—and 20 years of internet shopping growth, which now makes up more than a third of retail sales in the UK, consumer behaviour had changed, with convenience and price often being the main drivers in our increasingly busy lifestyles. Consumers are no longer prepared to change their lifestyle to visit high street shops as often as they once did, and instead want a retail offer that suits their new lifestyle.
There was a need to try to reimagine our town centres, to celebrate their history and identity, to give people new reasons to come into and live in our town centres again, and to then support the smaller retail sector that remained. Wonderful examples of developing that sense of place are at work across South Scotland, including initiatives such as Wigtown booktown, Castle Douglas food town, Kirkcudbright artists’ town and, most recently, Moffat dark sky town. I am tempted to say that Dumfries is the football town, but perhaps I will not, after the past few weeks.
However, those efforts are increasingly being swamped by the sheer weight of the economic and social tsunami that our retailers are facing, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic but was by no means caused by it. There has been an acceleration in the number of shop closures, but the cost base in our towns remains far too high, so they cannot compete with out-of-town locations and online shopping.
Many landlords are often absentee pension funds. I remember phoning one pension fund landlord to complain about trees growing through the windows of a property and the pension fund denying that it owned the building. The reality was that it did not even know that it owned the building. Those absentee companies often seek rent levels from a bygone age and are utterly divorced from the current reality.
We need to cut costs and raise footfall for the people who want to do business in our towns. That is why Labour’s amendment sets out two measures that we have asked the Government to consider as part of its budget. First, we want to see at least 50 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure properties, which would be similar to the level that was offered to businesses in England in the new financial year. That would ensure that Scotland’s businesses are not put at an economic disadvantage.
Secondly, we need immediate fiscal stimulus to encourage people safely back into our town centre shops. The Northern Ireland spend local voucher scheme is a great example of how we can inject cash directly into our local shops. The scheme was delivered by the Department for the Economy and it offered everyone aged over 18 in Northern Ireland a £100 voucher to spend in local businesses until 14 December. Data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium shows that, in November, the number of shoppers increased to its highest level since before the pandemic and was down just 5.2 per cent on 2019, which can be compared with the rest of the UK, which saw falls of between 16 per cent and 20 per cent.
Retail Northern Ireland chief executive Glyn Roberts told the
Belfast Telegraph that the scheme had been an
“invaluable short term boost for thousands of local independent retailers”.
That is exactly the type of initiative that we need from the Scottish Government. That is why Scottish Labour is proposing an ambitious fiscal stimulus package to aid economic recovery that includes a £50 voucher for every adult to spend in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets.
There must also be long-term solutions. At the start of my speech I mentioned a property on Dumfries High Street that would have been the entrance to a shopping centre that never happened, and never will. That property was community transferred by the council to a new community benefit company—Midsteeple Quarter—thereby kick-starting its work to take back the High Street shop by shop. The company is now investing in that property and others to deliver the mix of uses our town needs, including good-quality retail space that is affordable for local businesses, community space and new housing. Its co-operative principle recognises that local people have the innovative solutions for their town, and that they should have a stake in its future through community ownership. That really is loving local. I commend the Midsteeple Quarter project to the minister, and invite him to visit to find out for himself the difference that it is making.
More importantly, I urge the Government to ensure that, at the heart of its policies on town centres is investment to support that bottom-up, community-led approach to regeneration, recognising in particular that developing housing in town centres comes with additional costs and needs to be supported.
That is a very good question. One of the issues is that such housing costs more, even if it is in the town centre. It is easy for a social landlord to build a square box on a greenfield site, but it is more expensive to do it on a brownfield site in a town centre. That needs to be reflected when it comes to funding from Government to social landlords and others. They should focus on passive housing and other good-quality accommodation in our town centres.
I find little to disagree with in the Government’s motion. For example, 20-minute neighbourhoods and 10 per cent of transport funding going towards active travel are Labour manifesto commitments, although I am disappointed that public transport does not merit a mention in the motion.
On active travel, I hope that lessons are learned from the spaces for people initiative. Although, in many cases, it created welcome safe spaces, a majority of investment was concentrated in just two cities, and it took funding away from permanent active travel infrastructure, which was instead used for pop-up initiatives. In some cases, those temporary projects alienated communities, which undermined active travel.
There is no recognition in the motion that, in rural areas, our market towns serve communities that are often more than 20 minutes away, where car use is not a luxury but a necessity. We need to be careful not to make our town centres inaccessible for shop deliveries, and that we do not make customer parking too expensive, because that will simply accelerate the consumer trends towards out-of-town and online shopping that I outlined.
However, my main criticism of the Government’s motion is that, while the Scotland Loves Local campaign is very well meaning and supports a lot of positive local initiatives, it does not go far enough. We are often in danger of debating the merits of a sticking plaster when the reality is that, at the moment, our patient needs major surgery.
Therefore, I am happy to move Labour’s amendment in my name, which I think will support and strengthen the Government’s motion. It goes further than the Tory amendment in the level of support that it offers, and it recognises the urgency of the crisis that our town centres face by proposing an urgent and immediate response. We need to seize the opportunity and be ambitious. If we are, we can deliver a real recovery for Scotland’s towns.
I move amendment S6M-02442.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises that local businesses will play a key role in Scotland’s wider economic recovery but that, after months of closures and restrictions, many businesses still face an uncertain future; believes that, consequently, further support is needed in order to sustain and boost our town centres, and calls, therefore, on the Scottish Government to extend the 50% rates relief, which is available in England for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, to these businesses in Scotland so they are given equal support on their road to recovery, and to produce a £50 high street voucher to provide a cash stimulus for these businesses and encourage footfall in local communities.”
Local businesses are the economic beating heart of our communities and, of course, their contribution provides opportunity for regeneration, resilience and development.
Our town centres also offer us a sense of culture and place, and we are rightly proud to support them through initiatives such as Scotland Loves Local—especially when we look at what our town centres have experienced over the past challenging 20 months. Local resilience and sustainability were always valued, but now they must be at a premium.
The Scottish Government’s Scotland Loves Local initiative highlights the importance of choosing local and promoting community wealth—but community wealth is not measured only in cash terms. A thriving town centre depends on its people. People provide drive, spirit and passion, and it is often our local businesspeople who lead that.
In my home town of Linlithgow, which the minister visited this summer, the two business improvement districts came together with Linlithgow Community Development Trust in October 2019 to create One Linlithgow, which is the first such BID in Scotland. It brings together local businesses of all sizes and the community groups that help them to thrive and survive.
With the Scottish Government’s business resilience funding, One Linlithgow was able to offer a tailored response to local businesses by offering face masks and distancing posters to some, and assisting others with advice on how to continue trading safely. With the help of volunteers, it organised grand reopening hampers and offered assistance to businesses on what Government support they were entitled to. One Linlithgow also used the resilience funding to establish digital markets, which made more than £7,000 for local businesses in their first 10 days of going live. The uniqueness of that collaborative approach, which was hailed by the minister on his visit, is one that is rooted in community support and resilience.
With the addition of the Scotland Loves Local fund, local organisations and businesses are continuing to work collaboratively through providing an outdoor market and developing their informative website, www.mylinlithgow.com.
In other parts of my constituency, the Green Action Trust in Broxburn and the Broxburn and Uphall Development Group received £20,000 and £8,000 of funding, respectively. They plan to create a community green space, which will promote good physical and mental health.
Only yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands visited Scotmid in Broxburn in my constituency—it is a popular place—with the Scottish Grocers Federation, to promote the Scottish Government’s go local programme, which drives sales of local food. In the first 10 stores alone, there has been a 40 per cent increase in sales and additional sales of Scottish food worth close to £1 million.
In Bathgate, where I started my Christmas shopping at the weekend on small business Saturday, Choose Bathgate’s campaign is very active. Its Facebook pages are filled with businesses including the Phoenix Health and Wellness Centre. As well as championing businesses, it encourages shoppers to explore Bathgate’s High Street.
I say to Colin Smyth that, in my view, Scotland Loves Local and the gift card scheme should also be about tackling inequality. Giving free money to all, which has been the approach in Northern Ireland, is one way of doing things. However, in Scotland, my preference would be that councils or—as I think we heard—Citizens Advice Scotland provide funded gift cards to the most vulnerable people in our communities, thereby targeting poverty at the same time as supporting local businesses. I hope that Colin Smyth will consider that approach.
Our town centres show others who we are and where we have been, and they have the power to shape where we want to go. By supporting Scotland Loves Local, we are investing not only in the local economy but in our people, in local innovation and creativity, in our culture and in our sense of place.
An important lesson is that ideas will come from local businesses, and not necessarily from what can be seen as remote councils or, indeed, a remote Government. That is a strong lesson that we should learn. Our local businesses suffered under lockdown because they closed in order to keep us safe. We must now, in turn, keep them safe. We must ensure that they thrive by coming together as a community and continuing to shop local and supporting Scotland Loves Local.
For many, Covid-19 has dramatically changed how we shop. That is particularly the case for how we shopped for food during the lockdown. With the right support, it looks as if that welcome trend may continue.
In the main, people shopped less frequently but more locally. The shift to buying local was partly down to necessity, as many of the larger supermarket chains closed their doors to new online orders because of manpower restrictions, but our local businesses stepped up to the mark and went above and beyond to open their doors in many cases. Roan’s Dairy in my constituency, for example, increased deliveries of milk to those who were self-isolating, which was a lifeline service. I hope that such businesses are now set to benefit greatly in the coming months and years.
A recent survey revealed that 84 per cent of people want to buy more local food and drink than they did previously, which is welcome news for anybody, but particularly for our family businesses across the country. That trend was highlighted in a recent survey that was carried out in Dumfries and Galloway, which found that a growing number of people intend to buy directly from producers and retailers in their communities. That is great news for many on our local high streets, whose businesses have suffered badly from the pandemic and online trading. However, given some of the comments from members, it is apparent that greater support is needed for our struggling high streets, which I hope will come forward in the budget tomorrow.
Food and drink is now the largest, fastest-growing and most valuable economic sector in Dumfries and Galloway. It is worth £1.2 billion and—crucially—it employs more than 9,000 people. That figure does not include local butchers, bakers and farm shops. The food and drink sector is the engine of our region’s economy and everything that is possible must be done to ensure that that continues. It needs more than nice slogans and good intentions.
Meaningful support must be given to improve local infrastructure. The problem is particularly acute in my constituency, which, despite being one of the biggest beef and lamb-producing areas in Scotland, has limited processing capacity and no abattoir. Local authorities need to support local producers to participate in public procurement and authorities must not use centralised procurement for marginal price-per-unit gains that benefit nobody and—crucially—only work against producers such as Galloway dairy farmers, who are right in the middle of the milk fields of Scotland.
Local food and drink producers must be supported in their ambitions by a boots-on-the-ground approach, not a one-size-fits-all growth pathway that regularly misunderstands the drivers of rural enterprise.
Does Mr Carson accept and give credit for the fact that the fastest-growing sector in Scotland is the food and drink sector and that “Ambition 2030: A growth strategy for farming, fishing, food and drink” aims to double its value between now and 2030? Does he accept that that would not have happened without the intervention of the Scottish National Party Government, when Richard Lochhead set up the first national food and drink policy for Scotland?
I absolutely accept that Scotland is growing more in that respect than many thought it would, but I will not thank Richard Lochhead for anything that he did as minister for agriculture, given a lot of the failures.
We must realise that diversity in business is something to celebrate. Diversity of breed, approach and business model creates resilience, especially in rural communities such as Dumfries and Galloway. There must be honest investment in local organisations and local enablers that understand how to make things work.
It is important to recognise examples of good practice where, against all the odds, small organisations and producers are doing outstanding work, such as the supply chain development work done by the Galloway Cattle Society, which has turned around an at-risk native breed and is working directly with the supermarket giant Aldi. There is every chance that Galloway beef will be on the menu in many households this Christmas.
I praise the collaborative approach taken by Dumfries and Galloway Farmers and Community Markets Association, which is a network of about a dozen community markets that creates trading opportunities for more than 70 local businesses. It shares knowledge, equipment and expertise that ultimately makes local food and drink accessible to rural people.
Galloway justifies its reputation as a land of high-quality primary production and food-manufacturing knowledge and expertise. Sadly, however, the sector has undeveloped potential. We can all ask for, encourage and support change that will lead to greater job growth across the region. More thought must be given to ensuring that key procurement contracts for hospitals and council services are awarded to local businesses.
The Covid pandemic has absolutely proven that shorter supply chains are more resilient and sustainable. The Scottish Government must do more to work in tandem with farmers, growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors and retailers to lessen our need for food imports and grow and promote our UK and Scottish food and drink industry.
More young people should be nurtured to consider moving into the agriculture and fishing sectors in the near future, if we are to prosper and grow. Unlocking economic potential means growing and seizing emerging markets and opportunities, with businesses—
I certainly will. We have fantastic businesses in Dumfries and Galloway that I would love to have mentioned. Covid has presented us with a shorter, more resilient and fairer supply chain. Let us ensure that we do not let it go.
I warmly welcome the motion, which is all about the Government providing big-picture thinking and local communities filling in the detail according to their individual needs and situations. That is exactly how it should be, and that is how we get community-led regeneration.
Like many of my colleagues, I made a point on Saturday of visiting a range of local businesses in and around my constituency to highlight small business Saturday. There is an incredible range of fantastic small businesses across Perthshire South and Kinross-shire. I could list them all, Presiding Officer, but I do not think that you would give me the time that I would need to do so. As we all know, brevity is not my strong point at the best of times.
Small businesses are a vital part of our communities and they absolutely deserve our support, which has probably never been more needed than now, when the Covid-19 pandemic has had such a big impact, particularly on the retail and hospitality sectors. Online shopping and large chains might offer convenience, but the independent retailers that are on our doorsteps offer that and much more—individuality, craftsmanship and personal services are only some of the benefits that we can expect from shopping with good local businesses. A well-known butcher in Perth city centre—Beaton Lindsay from DG Lindsay and Son butchers—is one of those folk who is quite simply part of the community. He knows his customers by name and often knows what they want before they even say a word.
Boris Johnson once crowed that
“A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”
He was wrong, of course, as he always is, but let us rewrite that phrase. A pound spent in Crieff will do far more good for the local economy if it stays in Strathearn. We can swap Crieff for Kinross, Methven or Auchterarder—the principle remains the same. I am delighted that the minister mentioned our new local radio station, Radio Earn—I thank him very much for that. That principle is what is meant by phrases such as “circular economy” and “sustainable communities”, and that is exactly what Scotland Loves Local has to be all about: encouraging and enabling local people to spend their money on local businesses, giving those businesses access to the technology that will help them to compete with the corporate giants and creating environments that will increase footfall and activity, which will build local wealth.
When it comes to David versus Goliath, let us always try to get right behind David. The Scottish Government launched the £10 million multiyear Scotland Loves Local fund to support local people, businesses and community partnerships. This year, £2 million has been made available to support up to 100 organisations to bring new creative projects and activities to towns and neighbourhoods.
In my constituency, the fund will help to support the Murray fountain, which is an iconic Victorian landmark in James Square in Crieff, and it will help to launch and deliver the multichannel Christmas campaign across Perth and Kinross entitled “Perth is where Christmas is made”. The campaign includes a Perth city and surrounding towns gift guide and promotes the Scotland Loves Local gift card, which supports, encourages and incentivises shopping locally.
The Scotland Loves Local agenda is not all about shopping; it is also about tackling inequality and promoting community-led regeneration. Reticent as I am to see any silver lining in the dark cloud of Covid, one thing that has come shining through and has been absolutely wonderful is the way in which communities in my constituency and across the country have come together to help those who need support, with people helping one another.
Does the member agree that a one-size-fits-all growth plan does not always address the issues in rural areas and that we should look for more Government support to go to local groups to deliver ambitions in the food and drink industry?
I do not have a lot of time, but I will say only that the Government is doing exactly that. I do not know where Finlay Carson has been sitting.
Through the toughest part of lockdown, more than 7,500 food parcels were delivered by 16 community organisations around Perth and Kinross. Community groups such as Letham4All and Broke Not Broken in Kinross were always fantastic. Incidentally, I am delighted to see that the diggers have moved in this week to start the transformation of the Letham recreation centre into a new community hub that will be run for and by local people.
I said earlier that I was not going to start listing local businesses, but I will highlight one great wee company that deserves our support right now, and I refer Mr Lumsden to this. Michelle Maddox is the driving force behind Clootie McToot, and I have known her for a very long time. When I ran events before I came into this place, if I was looking for great-quality local producers, Michelle Maddox’s name was always one of the first to be on my list. She began her business with a stall at a school fête and she moved on to farmers markets. She now has a shop in Abernethy and a mail-order business that sells traditional clootie dumplings. I was absolutely disgusted to learn that she has been subjected to appalling levels of online abuse by ill-advised morons. Even if it is not parliamentary to use such words, Presiding Officer, I still think that we need to call out that moronic behaviour.
Michelle Maddox was given that abuse for promoting her business—as I would have done if I were in her shoes—at a festive food and drink market in Downing Street. I would urge all members to order their Christmas puddings from Clootie McToot in solidarity, but I am pleased to say that we cannot, as
Michelle Maddox’s order book is full—although I understand that people can still pick up a Christmas gift or two from her shop in Abernethy.
I welcome the debate. While it is framed by the Scotland Loves Local campaign, a positive initiative that I hope will increase activity in high streets and among independent retailers, it is also an opportunity to discuss the pressures facing retailers and to recognise their important role in supporting communities through the pandemic.
Scotland Loves Local is a promotional campaign, which is always important in retail, but it will not by itself change the trading environment for our high streets, which needs greater intervention and a recognition that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the viability of many retailers and high streets. However, the pandemic was a boost to the businesses of some larger retailers, particularly supermarkets, and our business taxation system should recognise that. Government investment for recovery must now be focused in a fair way that supports employment, skills and SMEs.
Vibrant local high streets can retain resources and wealth in their local communities. More than ever, we need to be supporting towns and providing resources to promote local high streets and businesses. When we are thinking of ways to support local high streets, we should recognise the importance of collaborative working. In my region, Burntisland and now Kinghorn both host fiver fest weeks or fortnights, which are popular and highlight independent businesses in the towns as part of the Totally Locally campaign. We had small business Saturday on Saturday, and I was spoilt for choice in Burntisland, but I went to Sunrise Bakehouse, a fairly new business that is thriving.
I have seen Burntisland High Street transform from a faded, tired high street into one that regularly features in national newspapers and on television. Why is it so successful? There are a few factors to consider. It has cheaper business rates than larger towns, and it has additional attractions in having a beach and a fair in the summer. We do not want to encourage car use, but Burntisland has ample and free parking, as well as a train station. It has grown as a town, with new housing developments. It has anchor shops, which draw in other business, and many of the businesses are run by people who have a strong commitment to the town. The traders work well together and they promote each other’s businesses. I hope that the town continues to grow and succeed.
The proposal for 20-minute neighbourhoods has some relevance in that regard. The minister has described national planning framework 4 as the driver for that, but the idea needs more substance, and it will also need investment. There is a vision, but it requires a number of policies and interventions that will work together to ensure that it can be delivered.
Kirkcaldy is just a few miles up the coast from Burntisland, but its fortunes are very different. It is facing challenges that are similar to those that face many high streets across Scotland. I recognise the businesses that are opening in the town and on the high street—many of them are independent retailers rather than large chains, and they are trying to change the offer on the high street.
I also recognise the role of Fife Council and the efforts that it is making to regenerate the town centre. However the failure of some large retailers, under significant pressure from the pandemic, online competition and the poor management and speculative practice of some owners, presents huge challenges. Large empty retail units—Kirkcaldy even has an empty shopping centre—require investment, imagination and incentives, and Government intervention that will break open the opaque ownership of buildings and support investment in local regeneration.
In evidence from the retail sector at the Economy and Fair Work Committee last week, we heard of the importance of business rates relief for the sector during lockdown and restrictions. Our amendment calls for a continuation of those policies using consequential spending, which will put Scottish retailers on a level playing field with retailers in the rest of the UK.
The Scottish Retail Consortium talked about broader cost pressures, rising energy costs, inflation and staff shortages. If we value high street retail, and if we recognise that there are broader benefits from it, there is a need for intervention. The Scottish Co-operative Party, of which I am a member, has launched its unlock the high street campaign. It is calling for ownership transparency and new routes for community co-operative ownership—an issue that Colin Smyth talked about—as well as consideration of how we reform taxation to ensure that small businesses are not disadvantaged by online sales.
The Scotland Loves Local gift card is good, but it lacks incentives, other than appealing to local businesses. It should at least have a financial top-up from Government. As other members have highlighted, Northern Ireland had a similar card; it had funds on it and people then spent the money in their town centres, which was a kick-start for the retail and hospitality sector. Our amendment calls for a similar policy, and I hope that the Scottish Government will consider it.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a serving councillor on East Ayrshire Council, which is one of two council areas in my Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency.
At the crest of the pandemic’s first wave, councillors and officers in East Ayrshire recognised the real spirit that was being shown by our communities and local businesses. Working hand in glove with the local authority, everyone was collectively striving to keep folks safe and to ensure that we all had access to necessities.
Neighbours met for the first time, and new community resilience groups came together with the support of the council’s vibrant communities team. Those newly forged and strengthened relationships are now vital in ensuring that we emerge from the pandemic in a way that promotes inclusive growth, local procurement and community wealth building, with a focus on community-led regeneration and sustainable 20-minute communities.
Back in May 2020, while I was still deputy leader of East Ayrshire Council, I was proud to support the council in its trailblazing endeavour to support the Kilmarnock and Cumnock business associations and the business communities across East Ayrshire by introducing the East Ayrshire gift card. The card has benefited retail by increasing footfall and boosting the local economy, helping businesses to adapt and respond to the pandemic. It works as a closed-loop credit card, and it is now accepted and sold in over 180 businesses throughout East Ayrshire. The card’s flexibility, which allows it to be bought and spent in person or online, helped to keep local businesses trading throughout lockdown and enabled many traders to venture into online trading for the first time at no cost to themselves, bringing them to the attention of new customers throughout the area.
Although many of the businesses that registered were in the larger towns, the council worked to ensure that businesses in more rural areas of the authority were signed up to reduce the need for people to travel to spend the card. That embodies the concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood. The card can also be redeemed online, and the team worked to introduce the ShopAppy platform and help retailers to make the move to digital retailing.
Following on from East Ayrshire’s UK-leading approach to locally sourced school food, in December 2020 elected members identified an opportunity to help families who required support while also helping the business community, which had been impacted by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. East Ayrshire gift cards to the value of £20 were included in the locally procured food boxes that were distributed at Christmas to primary school children who received free school meals. That was on top of the much-needed £100 hardship payments from the Scottish Government. A total of 4,030 cards were distributed.
The gift cards gave families flexibility on how they managed their finances to best suit their own needs, and data revealed that they were used in a variety of ways, including to pay for Christmas dinners, butcher meat, baked goods, arts and craft activities, clothes and making vehicles road safe.
That was repeated at Easter 2021; the criteria were extended to include nursery children and the value on the card was increased to £50, which was funded by council budgets. A total of 4,520 gift cards were distributed. As the Christmas campaign data also showed, the majority of people used the cards responsibly and to the benefit of their family.
Using the gift card in that way takes away the stigma that is attached to families in food poverty, because nobody, including shopkeepers, knows whether they have received a gift card as a gift or as part of a care package. It also supports the shop local principle and feeds into the community wealth building agenda. The gift cards must be redeemed within East Ayrshire, which helps to retain the wealth locally. Sales of the gift card in its first year came to just more than £330,000. In addition to people purchasing the cards as gifts, businesses purchased them to gift them to their staff at Christmas or as incentives.
As was the minister, I was delighted to see East Ayrshire recognised with the judges’ special award for its trailblazing work on the East Ayrshire gift card at the inaugural Scotland Loves Local awards last week—what an achievement. I send a special thanks to town centre regeneration officer Tracy Murray, a former boutique owner who spearheaded the creation of the card. Thanks to her drive and innovation, the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Towns Partnership have taken her acorn of an idea and launched the Scotland Loves Local gift card nationwide. Colleagues, please keep your local gift card in mind this holiday season and support businesses at the heart of your communities.
Local issues are close to my heart. During the first lockdown, I kick-started a mutual aid group in Moray, which was inspired by countless examples across Scotland of communities pulling together, taking initiative and providing support—by local people, for local people. Despite that groundswell in community activity, most people feel cut off from local decision making. The 2019 Scottish household survey found that only 18 per cent of Scots believe that they can influence decisions that impact on them and their local communities.
Despite the growing movement to buy local and support local businesses, supply chains and skilled workers are often not in place, particularly in remote, rural and island areas. A constituent in Inverness recently wrote to me after finding that no companies in a reasonable distance of his home provide internal wall insulation. Yesterday, members raised concerns in the chamber about the insufficient provision of local maternity care services in Moray, and I have spoken before about the centralisation of air traffic control removing skilled jobs from more remote areas of the Highlands and Islands.
To reverse that situation, we should start by strengthening local supply chains, and a healthy portion of public sector catering should be locally sourced to support local farming and food sectors. The good food nation bill should instruct public bodies to include a local food procurement target in their good food nation plans.
In the housing sector, we must invest multiyear funding in skills development, training and apprenticeships to expand and upskill the workforce to deliver green homes, particularly in remote and island communities, and we must encourage house builders to use wood that is grown sustainably in Scotland, to support our rural forestry sector.
We should support more remote businesses such as Foula Wool, which is using a grant from the island communities fund to shorten its supply chain. By creating its own renewable energy-powered spinning mill on the island, it will move jobs on to the island and increase its business resilience to climate and economic impacts.
To build a net zero nation, we need to start local and bring everyone with us. That is why the Scottish Government and Greens’ shared policy programme promotes community wealth building and community-led regeneration.
We all agree that active travel and saving rural bus services are vital, but our high streets need people to access them, particularly in our more remote and rural communities. Does the member agree that people who rely on a car, because they are older, are isolated or live in remote communities, need parking on high streets to be able to access them?
Absolutely. People who need to use cars should have them. In my town, we have good measures such as community parking spaces where such people can put their cars.
The wants and needs of communities are too often overruled under our current planning system when developers are given the go-ahead for projects that conflict with local plans that communities have worked hard to shape. Some communities are even compelled to dig into their own pockets to take such cases to court, such as the recent case of Carmunnock community council defending locally important green-belt land against a luxury homes development approved by Glasgow City Council. It should not be that difficult for communities to influence what happens in their local areas.
I will push for national planning framework 4 to include a presumption against development that departs from local development plans. Further, I will work with my colleagues in the Government to grant land assembly powers to public bodies, to enable them to deliver the development that communities, not profit-seeking developers, want.
I welcome and support the Scotland Loves Local campaign.
There are many reasons why we should all endeavour to purchase what we need from local businesses and support our local community projects. As never before, we have relied on our local businesses and communities to see us through the pandemic, especially during lockdown. Notably, we all encountered global supply issues. Most often, that was in respect of the supply of foodstuffs, many of which may be readily available locally.
Today, we all see the shortages in the supermarkets that are caused mainly by Brexit and compounded by Covid. By buying from local suppliers, we will encourage the expansion of local supply chains. That will create more resilience in the supply of our foodstuffs and reduce the pressure on longer and currently stretched supply chains. As local demand rises, so local production will expand. In turn, that will create more jobs and generate more local income, thus raising prosperity and creating sustainable new businesses and long-term economic growth.
One of the most obvious reasons for supporting our local businesses is to ensure that more money simply stays in the local economy. That helps everyone locally to become wealthier and makes our local businesses more resilient. The result is smaller businesses that have the potential to expand and develop into bigger businesses that can cater for more people locally than they could before. It is important that we nurture that and invest to retain those services.
I do not expect each community to start building television sets or set up a motor car assembly plant. However, many products could be made locally and do not require expensive infrastructure or huge capital investment. Councils must play a key part in driving that approach forward by encouraging and supporting the construction of local supply chains. It will benefit them and us all.
I have seen at first hand in my constituency the way in which our communities pulled together in their resilience efforts during the pandemic, with their extraordinary work leaving a lasting impact on many people. I am sure that other MSPs have witnessed the same in theirs.
The Scotland Loves Local campaign not only recognises how much we rely on our local communities but helps them to continue that vital work through investment. I was pleased to see the investment that it put into supporting local community projects, businesses and social enterprises in my constituency.
For example, One Dalkeith recently received £20,000 as part of this year’s £1.5 million funding boost from the Scotland Loves Local fund. That funding will benefit One Dalkeith to achieve its primary goal of connecting and supporting local businesses, including freelancers and home-based businesses, by providing a central networking hub in the heart of town.
The fund has also helped projects in my constituency to tackle one of the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic: isolation. Wellbeing Essentials in Roslin and Midlothian Cyrenians, located in the Midlothian community hospital in Bonnyrigg, both received £17,500. That is a great investment into deserving projects that provide safe outdoor spaces for people who need to escape from today’s massive digital culture, find themselves unemployed or suffer from poor mental health. Having those resources readily available in our communities to give a helping hand when most needed is crucial. It is that point exactly—having the resources readily available—that we must bear in mind in a post-Brexit and post-pandemic Scotland.
I want to see our communities delivering the most sought-after services and I want to see those services remain within the community. In that way, we not only help our communities to prosper but create the ideal of the 20-minute neighbourhoods that we seek to achieve. We have learned from the pandemic that our surroundings can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. It has also made us reflect on our community surroundings and the importance of the need to protect and preserve those surroundings.
By supporting Scotland Loves Local, we also support the need to protect our communities from climate change. By reducing the need for goods to be flown or trucked in from elsewhere, we are reducing their carbon footprint and contributing to a more sustainable future for jobs and our economy. That aspect should not be downplayed. A significant impact can be made if we buy local on a wide scale and every initiative to do so helps. We can all play our part in that.
I would ask that we all continue to think local, choose local and shop local. I very much look forward to seeing how the campaign grows with the future investment promised by the Scottish Government, fulfilling an ambition that we can all share.
The pandemic hit our economy like a truck, and our world-class food and drink industry has taken a heavy hit, whether we are talking about producers, retailers or hospitality venues, so I will focus my remarks on them.
Ogilvy Spirits, in Glamis, produces Scotland’s first potato vodka; Angus Soft Fruits Ltd works alongside UK and international growers to ensure a year-round supply chain; and Marks and Spencer said that it could not source better strawberries from anywhere in the world than it could from PJ Stirling of Arbroath.
I cannot mention Arbroath without recognising the famous Arbroath smokie, which is supplied by renowned local fishmongers such as Spink’s and Swankie’s. That other famous Angus delicacy, the Forfar bridie, is mainstay of many local high street bakeries.
I could go on, but the point is clear: Scotland has world-beating food and drink businesses that are worth protecting, and the Scottish Conservatives have a plan to do that.
We want food and drink firms to flourish on the high street, so we would relax planning laws and delay new regulations until 2023. The more people who visit hospitality venues, the more people there are to support retailers.
We would encourage consumers to buy more local produce from those retailers and we would ensure that public procurement always favoured Scottish produce—a Scotland-first approach.
For producers, we would launch a comprehensive farm-to-fork review of food policy as a central part of our economic recovery. That would mean increasing producers’ bargaining power—
Does the member understand that councils can already make the decision to procure locally? East Ayrshire already produces a huge amount of its food and other goods locally, so that can happen right now.
I think that most people recognise that the policy of making public procurement sustainable has been failing for a number of years. The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 did not deliver what it should have delivered. Too often, local suppliers are left out of public procurement, and that needs to change. It is a shame that Elena Whitham does not agree with that.
All those actions would help to strengthen our food systems. The pandemic has shown how resilient they are, but we cannot continue to rely on just-in-time supply chains.
In all, our plan could double the size of Scotland’s food and drink sector by the end of the decade, and the British Government has already started that work. The UK budget provided £1.9 billion for Scottish farmers and guaranteed them extra funding for the next three years. The British Government also delivered a freeze in US tariffs on whisky, which was a huge win for our food and drink exports.
Establishing a network of Scottish trade hubs across the rest of the UK would deliver another boost.
I am not surprised by the member’s confusion—his general demeanour is one of that ilk.
Let me be clear: action is needed. Shop vacancies are at a six-year high, and retailers speak of “insurmountable” challenges. More than a dozen industry bodies have written to the finance secretary for help. We hear that call, and we want to see a full year of 75 per cent rates relief. We forced the SNP to deliver rates relief last year, and we want food retailers and hospitality venues to be protected again.
Let us all buy, eat and promote local with every chance we get.
I welcome the debate and the opportunity to pay tribute to all our local businesses, which have lived through an unimaginable 20 months.
Last weekend, on small business Saturday, I was pleased, like many other members, to pop into the excellent local businesses in the community in which I live. I am very glad to say that the Pad restaurant in Neilston has managed to keep going due to the support of local people who used its new takeaway service during lockdown and returned to the restaurant when it was safe to do so.
Despite being caught up in the many challenges of changing restrictions, including the ridiculous debate about the definition of a cafe, Lindsay and Linda, who run the Pad, told me how much they have valued the support of local people. Despite all the challenges, throughout the pandemic, along with many other local businesses, they have sought to give something back, including by preparing afternoon tea boxes for older people and those shielding. That is just one example of the many generous acts carried out by local small businesses in the pandemic. Many also offered free meals for key workers, discounts and preferential shopping times.
There is great resilience on our high streets and a sense of wanting to come together, but I worry sincerely about the ability of businesses to survive and thrive. It is clear that we owe them real and meaningful support in navigating what continues to be an extremely difficult set of circumstances.
We know that Scotland has lost almost 20,000 small businesses during a single year of the Covid crisis. Too many businesses have found it too difficult to remain open, and we have seen the hopes and dreams of many small and medium business owners completely shattered.
I am sure that members across the chamber will agree that our local businesses are at the heart of what keeps our communities full of life. This afternoon, we have heard excellent examples from around the chamber. Indeed, the minister and I hail from the same part of the world, and I have seen his tweets about his childhood memories of Friday nights with the Alpino chippy, a film from Foxbar video and a tub of Central cafe ice cream. I have similar memories, and I put on record for the first time in the chamber my endorsement of Central cafe ice cream—although possibly too much of it was consumed during lockdown. In all seriousness, I know that the minister understands the importance of those businesses to towns such as Barrhead. That is why it is vital that we do more and go further.
As colleagues have said, the principles of Scotland Loves Local are worthy and good. I declare an interest as a councillor in East Renfrewshire, because the council has benefited from many of those initiatives, which the minister has seen for himself. However, we need to go further and consider what else we can do. We should look at the voucher scheme and consider whether it would be better, as Colin Smyth and others have said, to adopt the Northern Irish approach and put spending power into people’s pockets to use in our town centres. I hope that the minister—
The member will have listened to Elena Whitham and heard about using the gift card in a targeted way for those who need financial help instead of taking a blanket approach such as the one that has been taken in Northern Ireland. Does the member welcome the pilot project involving the distribution of cards by Citizens Advice Scotland, which the minister mentioned in his opening speech?
Of course, I welcome that—it is happening in our community in East Renfrewshire as well. However, the point that I am trying to make is that we need to listen to all those ideas and put money into everyone’s pockets so that they can spend it in communities. That is vital if we are to encourage people to go into town centres and spend more money. I hope that the minister will listen to what we are suggesting, as we make the suggestion in a spirit of collaboration and, indeed, consensus.
We have mentioned having 50 per cent business rates. I think that that would give businesses the breathing room that they require to survive as we go into next year. Furthermore, as I mentioned, our proposal to give a £50 voucher to everyone aged 16 and over to spend in non-grocery businesses with physical premises in Scotland would give businesses the boost that they need to thrive. These are our communities. They are important to all of us and to our constituents, and we need to help businesses to be at the heart of them.
I was absolutely delighted to welcome funding for various parts of the Highlands and Islands, including more than £17,000 for projects in Orkney, £10,000 each for Nairn and Shetland, and £20,000 for Inverness and the surrounding area—the list goes on.
Extra funding to business improvement districts in Nairn, Kirkwall and Inverness could go a long way, as would more money for Shetland Food and Drink and Living Lerwick, which I am sure would use that to champion the—at the moment, criminally underappreciated—local produce, such as that offered by Island Larder, which I enjoy immensely when I visit the isles.
This is what good governance looks like: funding at a local level that has purpose, principles and policies to back it up. Investing in local places cannot stop at just giving funding for projects, so it is disappointing that the Tory amendment seeks to remove nods at the end of the Government motion to wider action such as safe spaces for walking, wheeling and cycling.
We are past the point of talking about those issues in isolation. If we want people to return to shopping on the high street, they must be accessible and nice places in which to spend time. If we are to tackle climate change, infrastructure for people, bikes and public transport must be front and centre. If we leave town centres as polluted unattractive spaces for cars to use as rat runs, there is nothing to encourage people off their sofas and the internet and on to pavements and into local shops.
I agree with the line in the Tories’ amendment that things were not really working pre-pandemic. I just do not agree with the conclusion that they draw that the solution is to focus solely on throwing money at the issue without addressing the causes of low footfall. No amount of rates relief or eat out to help out-type vouchers will be enough to tide over high street businesses if nobody is coming through the doors. What we had before was not great. The pandemic, for all the bad that it has brought us and all that we have lost—
We have had an SNP Government for a long time. We have also had a UK Government for a long time that has refused to give the Scottish Government fiscal powers to make the change that the member is asking for.
Financial support for business is vital. As we have heard, the SNP Government is delivering that. That is despite on-going restrictions on the economic decisions that we can make without the permission of Westminster. However, our businesses should be thriving, not just relying on short-term funding or other financial support.
Pontification and demands made by the Opposition might make better headlines than the Scottish Government’s approach, which takes into consideration transport, spaces, climate change, housing and many other policies that have an effect on the experience of business owners in this country, but those headlines will not help anyone but the Opposition.
The Government’s rounded, thoughtful approach—
The member mentions headlines. Does she accept that Northern Ireland’s experience of its voucher scheme, which has been supported by chambers of commerce, is that it has worked exceptionally well?
I am sure that the member will not disagree with my point that that on its own is not good enough and that we have to consider the wider picture. That is what the motion does.
This week, I encouraged my constituents to respond to the consultation on national planning framework 4. I repeat that call today. Too often, we do not feed into local development plans or national frameworks. We wait until a planning application that we absolute hate comes in before saying, “Hold on a minute.” That is too late. I ask people to get involved now, tell us what their priorities are and share their thoughts on how we create better places.
It has been a real pleasure to listen to the speakers in the debate. It has certainly been an insightful experience. The common theme has been the sheer impact that the pandemic has had on the resilience of local high streets and small local businesses. As my colleague Paul O’Kane from West Scotland highlighted, 20,000 small businesses across Scotland shut up shop during the pandemic. The Federation of Small Businesses described that figure as “catastrophic”, and I think that we can all agree with that. The question now is how Parliament responds to the crisis in our midst.
A broad observation in today’s debate has been of a big shift from local businesses to global multinationals, and we need to seriously address that trend. Although I commend the Government’s motion, it does not go far enough to address the sheer scale of the problem that the country faces.
In many cases, our town centre businesses are the source of middle-class prosperity. They drive local employment, ensure accessibility and create a local economy and an ecosystem that truly benefit local wealth creation. Unfortunately, they are suffering, and Parliament needs to step up.
Extending 50 per cent rates relief would be a welcome immediate measure, and I urge the finance secretary to give it serious consideration in the budget tomorrow. However, we also need a fundamental review of business rates as an efficient tax system. Alternative options such as revenue profit sharing and land value taxation have to be seriously explored by this Parliament, and we need to give that issue full consideration. However, our primary focus must surely be on what we can do to maximise high street occupancy. Too much focus is often placed on how to maintain the value of property and rental rates, at the expense of occupancy. We have seen that approach blight our high streets for too long.
Claire Baker from Mid Scotland and Fife referred to Burntisland as a great high street model. Ariane Burgess from the Highlands and Islands region referred to how we can address the ownership of real estate in our country, which is a major issue. Expanding community and municipal ownership using existing models, such as the housing association model, and using that capacity to buy up more of our commercial real estate assets in town centres, could be a way of driving that wealth back into communities. Ownership of the assets allows us more custody and control over how they are utilised for the public good.
My colleague Colin Smyth from South Scotland mentioned the model of co-operative control that has been used in Dumfries, where expanding that model has realised meaningful and tangible benefits for the community. Surely we have to husband that model and try to expand and scale it up across the country.
Indeed, that is a trend that Scotland once was proud of. In Glasgow alone, there were once eight independent retail co-operative societies, with a quarter of a million members, and 50 or 60 years ago they accounted for 10 per cent of all retail spend. That model was swept away in the intervening decades, and we need to try to rebuild it. Only two independent retail co-operative societies are left in Scotland: the Scottish Midland Co-Operative Society—Scotmid—and the Clydebank Co-operative Society. We can use them as a basis to rebuild that amazing infrastructure that captured wealth and kept it in the community, instead of being siphoned off to whoever knows where around the world by multinational chains. We need to look at that model in a serious way.
As we have heard from Douglas Lumsden from North East Scotland and others, the proper funding of local government is also essential to ensuring that high streets flourish. We have seen really good measures when it comes to the restoration and regeneration of local high streets, which colleagues from across the chamber have mentioned. Frankly, the majority of our high streets are not places where people want to spend their time. They are often bleak, treeless boulevards with austere, steel shutters on them after hours, and that creates a pretty bleak environment where people do not want to be.
By creating a more pleasant and pleasing environment for residents and visitors, we can attract consumers back to our high streets. Let us ditch the shuttered shop fronts, plastic signage and deserted pavements. We should be emphasising that our local high streets are open for business, welcoming and safe, but, sadly, it does not always feel like that is the case.
The heritage shop front improvement schemes in the city of Glasgow have provided a stand-out example of how to address that problem. Schemes are currently on the ground in Govan and Saracen Street in Possilpark, and I was delighted to assist securing funding for the latter project in 2018. Jackie Shearer, the managing partner of the Possilpark Business Improvement District, was last week named the winner of the Scotland Loves Local place leader award. It is a fantastic accolade that recognises what north Glasgow has achieved in the way of building a better urban environment. The focus of that scheme has been on kitting out new shop fronts on its once-traditional Victorian high street. In stripping back all that crud—the horrible plastic signage—amazing heritage features have been uncovered, such as stained glass and hand-painted signs from the Victorian era. That shows that, if we go back to the original idea of what a shop should look like, it becomes a much more attractive environment. People have been stunned by the results that have been achieved with relatively little investment.
We can do practical things at a small and large scale to provide such opportunities, but things such as the heritage shop front grant funding are threatened by local government cuts. There is limited capital availability to continue with such grant schemes. Also, the planning powers do not stipulate that people who set up a new shop have to adhere to planning and design standards for the shop front, so we end up with cluttered and badly planned high streets, which contributes to blight and undesirability.
We need to look at how we can use NPF4 to drive better standards and we need to use good examples from Scotland. Along with a fair funding settlement for local government—Labour has been calling for that for a long time, and COSLA estimates that £1 billion is needed to properly fix local government in Scotland—we need to look at how we design our urban environments to ensure that NPF4 and other planning frameworks are resilient enough to ensure that best practice is captured and expanded nationally.
I welcome the Scotland Loves Local campaign, which has huge merit, but we know that it does not go far enough, given the scale of the damage that has been caused to our high streets, which has been outlined today, and the scale of the dilution of local ownership of businesses in Scotland, which has been ceded to multinational control.
The Presiding Officer was throwing free minutes around earlier—there is a far more rigid approach now.
Never has the support and promotion of local businesses across Scotland been more essential. The pandemic and the associated restrictions that have been brought in on public health grounds have created untold worry and uncertainty for businesses of all sizes. Even those whose doors remained open throughout were impacted, as vital links in supply chains were pulled to breaking point and customer numbers reduced under the weight of travel restrictions. Staff were affected by illness and self-isolation, which pushed operations across sectors to the brink.
It is positive that many businesses have weathered the storm so far, but we must not forget those that have not. That applies to almost 20,000 businesses in Scotland alone, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. Nor should we overlook the huge cost that has been incurred in making interventions in our economy. The business support payments and programmes to save jobs, such as the UK Government’s hugely successful furlough scheme, meant that some of the worst potential outcomes were avoided, with billions of pounds of support in Scotland alone.
Most businesses are more fragile than they were previously. The drawing down of reserves and borrowing, as well as the human cost to individuals, has made our enterprises less resilient. What lies ahead remains to be seen, but there is certainly hope for the future and there are green shoots of recovery.
Tomorrow, the Scottish Government will outline its proposals for next year’s budget. This is a crucial time. A positive response from the Scottish Government—one that creates the conditions for our economy to thrive and prosper—will I am sure be met with support from across the chamber. The Scottish Conservatives believe that support needs to continue, which is why we have called for changes to business rates to give a freeze on poundage and 75 per cent relief across a number of key sectors. More than ever, we need a budget that backs Scottish businesses.
With the local debate, there will be some cause for local reflection. As highlighted earlier, my region of the Highlands and Islands is not only large in geography but diverse in spirit. It is difficult to do its economy justice in just a few minutes, but I will say that one of the privileges of being a member of Parliament is the ability to see local businesses in action and to speak with the people who are building, creating and driving action in our local areas. In the Highlands and Islands, we have a disproportionate number of smaller businesses, and they are often more than just part of our economy; they are vital to the communities that they serve.
In our remote and rural communities, we see more directly the contribution that businesses make to employment, access to services and community life as a whole. They are what ties our communities together. However, there have certainly been challenges. In the Highlands and Islands, one of the major limitations is found in infrastructure. At a time when remote working and online retail have become so important, news that the R100—reaching 100 per cent—project, which involves the roll-out of broadband in my region, has been delayed from the end of this year to the end of 2026 is concerning. So, too, is the apparent lack of certainty in the Scottish Government about the future of the dualling schemes for the A9 and A96, and the slow pace at which upgrades to those two choke points have taken place.
In our island communities, we saw at first this year, and too often in previous years, how the disruption of vital lifeline ferry links harm local businesses and communities.
On a more positive note, the Scotland Loves Local awards, which today’s motion mentions, played a positive part in highlighting great things that are happening in our local areas. One of the winners was Nairn, which scooped the climate town accolade. That is a well-deserved recognition of the work that has been undertaken by community groups across the town to show how more sustainable approaches to living can work in practice. It is fitting that the award comes to the Highlands and Islands region, which has been leading the charge in Scotland and in the UK as a whole in combating climate change.
Businesses, working with Government, academia and other sectors, have made great strides on renewable energy in the north of Scotland, particularly in my home of Orkney. There are great local projects in which materials are better utilised and recycled, building on our local heritage of reuse, working with the resources that are available and respecting the land and seas that surround us. That will increasingly be a part of doing business, and I am pleased that the Highlands and Islands region is leading the way.
However, the region faces the same challenges that are faced elsewhere. Many of those challenges have been touched on in the debate. More retail businesses have, for understandable reasons, moved online, and it will be essential to ensure that smaller local suppliers are not squeezed out. Our high streets and town centres will need to change—it will be a matter of more than just a lick of paint and more car parking. Consumer behaviour has shifted, and that shift has been accelerated by the pandemic. We value those hubs of community life, and it must be the priority of any Government to ensure that they have a future.
Sadly, support for small local businesses is not always universal. As has been mentioned, earlier this week, there were reports of one Scottish producer being targeted by people, out of a misplaced ideology, when promoting their goods in England. Such behaviour has sadly been all too common in Scotland in recent times. That should serve as a reminder that entrepreneurs put their heart and soul, as well as their livelihoods, into their enterprises, so I hope that all members will recognise the positive work of businesses and condemn the negative and hate-fuelled online bigotry that can sometimes blight them. I think that I heard the minister do exactly that, and Jim Fairlie certainly did, which is very welcome.
There have been many excellent contributions today. My colleague Douglas Lumsden spoke about the impact of the past two years on business and the sensible support that can be offered, particularly to retail businesses. Few of us can have missed the empty units in our commercial areas, which he touched on. He also reflected on the role of local authorities. Sadly, the Government has curtailed not only their powers but the resources for councils to build positive economic conditions at a time when they are needed most.
Maurice Golden focused in more detail on the food and drink sector. He cited the issues that a number of businesses in his region face. There is a need for a comprehensive review of food policy, which is long overdue and has enormous potential benefits for Scottish producers. He also spoke about the importance of encouraging trade within the UK, so that we make the local truly national with the support of Scottish trade hubs.
Finlay Carson highlighted how local businesses increase services, often providing lifeline links to people who are unable to access shops. That happens across the country. I am sure that we all have plenty of examples in our own areas—I can certainly think of many in Orkney.
Local economies will not prosper simply through warm words. Tomorrow, we will see how far the Scottish Government’s commitment to local business goes, and whether it is listening to and able to understand the concerns of those who are driving forward our economy. I hope that Scotland’s businesses are not left disappointed.
It has been one of those debates that has encouraged members to talk with great pride and enthusiasm—and rightly so—about the produce, businesses, communities and experiences in their local areas. Issues ranged from clootie dumplings to Friday nights in Barrhead—I am not sure whether those were shared Friday nights; if not, it is not too late.
I encourage members to continue to tell the stories of their local communities with enthusiasm and to say what makes them diverse, creative and unique places. Whatever differences we might have in politics, I think that that unites us across the political spectrum and across all political parties.
Colin Smyth was the first to paint that picture of his local area. His comment about football was the only one that I did not understand, but that says more about me than it does about him.
Most of the debate has been characterised by positive ideas and positive assertions about the value of creativity and uniqueness in local communities, which I very much welcome.
It is almost a tradition in the Parliament that, in the days before the budget, Opposition amendments are about pre-empting it, but political parties understand that the Government will not be able to support amendments that pre-empt tomorrow’s budget.
I welcome and encourage members to maintain the positivity that has been evident throughout most of the debate. If members have positive suggestions for how the Government should take its budget through, I am confident that they will come with proposals about where the money should come from as well as about where it should go.
The Scotland Loves Local programme is an example of an initiative that crosses numerous ministerial portfolios. As Tom Arthur said in his opening speech, the programme will succeed only through collaboration across political parties, ministerial portfolios and all parts of the Government, and through the public, private and third sectors working together with communities.
If we get that initiative right, the economic benefits will be evident. Encouraging more people to spend more of their time and money in local businesses will build stronger and more vibrant and sustainable communities, breathe life back into town and city centres and ensure that we are on the road to recovery following the disruption of the pandemic.
Members have put much emphasis on retail—including in the context of online retail—which is understandable. It is important to remember that many independent businesses with roots firmly in their local communities sell online, too. For some businesses, online sales help to keep them in business and keep their doors open on the high street. We need to encourage and support businesses to use those opportunities.
Paul Sweeney commented on the domination of multinationals, which is an important concern that many parts of the political spectrum share. It is clear that far too many opportunities for corporate tax avoidance exist for large multinationals, and tax avoidance is a big driver behind the domination of multinationals on the high street. Aspects of that issue are outwith the control of the Parliament. However, we want to look at devolved and local taxes, including with the citizens assembly on local government finance that will happen later in this session, which I encourage everyone to engage with.
The imminent national strategy for economic transformation will also offer opportunities to look at wider business ownership models and at the support that business owners need. Many ministerial portfolios are responsible for engaging in this agenda.
As the active travel minister, I understandably want to take some time to talk about how the way in which we move through our communities is profoundly connected to how we shape and connect to them, including to the businesses that operate in them. As Emma Roddick mentioned, the contribution that walking, wheeling and cycling can make to the Scotland Loves Local programme and the localism agenda more widely is extremely important, particularly the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods.
I think that it was Colin Smyth who mentioned the role of public transport. I hope that he is happy to welcome the fact that we will see free bus travel for under-22s. I know that people are pushing for the expansion of that scheme to cover other groups, and I want to hear those arguments, but we are making a good start in making free bus travel available for under-22s. Ensuring that people can access their local communities affordably and sustainably is critical.
Walking, cycling and wheeling are parts of a public health approach, and we want to ensure that people get the benefits of an active lifestyle. However, they are about much more than that—they are about our connection to a local community. Fiona Hyslop talked about measuring success in broader ways than direct economic impact; active travel is about people and their connection to and relationships with one another and a place. Colin Beattie commented on how that point relates to the issues of isolation and mental health. The ways in which we are physically connected and move through our communities are important in shaping far more than narrow economic metrics.
People’s travel behaviour and experience of the transport system differ depending on many factors such as income, gender, ethnicity, age and disability, among others. We need to understand those challenges as well.
They absolutely need to be able to, and I do not know anybody who wants to abolish the private car or make it impossible to use, but our culture is so dominated by the car that many people who do not have one have no access to the services and communities that they need to access. A great deal of what we need to achieve in a more sustainable transport system is also about having a more socially just transport system.
As we have heard, 20-minute neighbourhoods are based on the idea of living in attractive, safe, and walkable places where people of all ages and abilities can access the services and facilities that they need daily within a walk or wheel of around 20 minutes. Claire Baker welcomed the concept, but she was right to say that we have a great deal more to do if we are going to turn that vision into reality. The Scottish Government is committed to doing that, and I hope that we will have many opportunities to engage constructively with Opposition parties to achieve it.
The spaces for people programme was established in the early phase of the Covid pandemic, in a quick response to the need to create safe walking and cycling spaces along with physical distancing. Many previously congested streets were transformed so that people could walk, wheel and cycle to explore their local area. We know that, when people move at walking, cycling and wheeling speeds through our communities, they are far more likely to stop, to pop into a shop or a cafe, to speak to their neighbours, and to make that direct physical connection at the human level with their local community.
Does the minister accept that one of the consequences of the spaces for people initiative was that it took money away from permanent active travel schemes and that most of the money was concentrated in two large cities? Investment in permanent schemes in other parts of Scotland lost out, and that needs to be addressed.
We learned—and still have to learn—a great deal from the spaces for people initiative about what worked well and what needs to be improved, but the Scottish Government is committed to an unprecedentedly massive increase in investment in walking, wheeling, and cycling. We need more than just infrastructure; we need the behaviour change and culture change that come with it. We need accessibility for bikes, and the free bike scheme for young people, which is already rolling out pilots across the country, is a big part of that.
I am sorry that I am not going to be able to cover everything that I had planned to cover in my closing speech. I will close by thanking, once again, all members who brought positive and constructive ideas to the debate. We all need to commit to working together on this agenda, because the Love Local campaign is about what happens in every community in this country, and, if we all commit to working on it, it will improve our country everywhere.