City Centres (Large Retail Stores)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

6. To ask the Scottish Government whether, as part of the implementation of the recommendations of the city centre recovery task force report, the role of larger retail stores in city centres is being considered. (S6O-03059)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

The implementation of the recommendations in the task force report is led by the Scottish Cities Alliance, of which the Scottish Government is a member. The report identifies seven priority outcomes to ensure that city centres have a strong and vibrant offer to attract visitors, residents and tourists, as I referred to in answer to a previous question. It did not consider the detail of the role of larger retail stores.

Retail is an important component of a vibrant city centre economy. Our retail strategy encourages our retailers to promote city centres as retail and cultural destinations.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

According to the Scottish Retail Consortium, larger retail stores employ a high share of retail jobs and provide a significant share of low-cost everyday essentials for customers. Shops that are liable for the higher property rate have been paying more than their English counterparts for the past eight years, and now there is a threat of a rates surtax on grocers.

Given that the city centre recovery task force report already emphasises the need for out-of-town larger retail stores to be restricted and the prominence of large department stores on Scottish high streets, why does the cabinet secretary believe that Scottish stores are better placed than their counterparts down south to pay more rates?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I assume that Roz McCall still supports the austerity agenda that has been the hallmark of the United Kingdom Government’s policies over the past decade and a half. That has pushed us into having to look at broadening our revenue base. Discussions with the likes of the Scottish Retail Consortium are on-going. Indeed, the Deputy First Minister, Tom Arthur and I are due to meet the Scottish Retail Consortium this afternoon as part of the consultation on a retail surtax.

On non-domestic rates, 95 per cent of businesses in Scotland pay less in rates than businesses elsewhere in the UK pay, and the small business bonus scheme means that 100,000 business properties in Scotland are taken out of paying rates altogether.

Even in a difficult financial landscape, which has been made worse by decisions that have been taken at UK level, we are still investing in and supporting the trading landscape for businesses in Scotland.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

The city centre recovery task force is supporting Scotland’s eight city centres at a time when businesses are facing increases in the cost of food and goods as a result of new import controls. The UK Government estimates that new Brexit red tape will cost businesses an extra £330 million a year. Seven years after Scotland rejected Brexit, what is the Scottish Government’s assessment of its impact on retail and businesses?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

B usiness survey data shows that many businesses in the retail and wholesale sector continue to report additional costs due to Brexit, with 30 per cent of businesses in Scotland reporting additional costs—21 per cent said that there were additional costs due to red tape, 14 per cent reported higher transportation costs and 9 per cent faced extra tariffs. Brexit is directly responsible for that.

Clearly, the position with imports and exports varies by sector, but I am still to hear a positive view of Brexit from a business and economic perspective; there are only negatives. It is clear that, whichever party is returned to government after the UK general election, the economic pain will continue, because Labour and the Conservatives are signed up to a Brexit Britain future and the economic drag that Brexit causes. Independence is the only way back into the European Union.