For the last four years, mid December has seen the release of the latest edition of the LDC/University of Stirling Retail report on the situation of retailing in the major towns and cities across Scotland. Last Tuesday saw the fourth edition formally launched at a breakfast event at KPMG in Edinburgh, with coverage across various media – though with various slants, ranging from wanting to see the news as positive to wanting to turn it into the negative.
So what does the report actually show? As one might imagine with the wealth of data that LDC collects on a regular and consistent basis, one benefit comes in looking at the data at the local level and seeking to work with place managers to understand and direct change. Our annual report does not deal with that level, leaving that to the relationships between the LDC and local authorities, but rather takes an aggregate picture of the data to consider national trends and place these in the context of the country and its neighbours.
The headlines for us therefore were:
- The retail vacancy rate for towns across Scotland continues to fall and is well below Wales, though above England as a whole (where London and the South East exerts a huge influence)
- Retail vacancy rates for retail parks and shopping centers also fell but remain the highest in GB countries
- Vacancy rates in towns and cities in Scotland are the same on average
- Persistent vacancy fell in many towns, though some towns continue to see rates of over 15%
- There was some evidence for towns beginning to adjust their unit population, though both increases and decreases are seen
- Convenience retailing was on the increase
- There was a large increase in the leisure component, especially of the cities and larger towns
- The Booze, Money and Gambling index fell in many places, with reductions in off-licences and cash converter type units
- Charity shop numbers fell slightly
With over 130 towns and cities in the report there is of course much to digest and variability of results, dependent on local circumstances, is to be both expected and encouraged. Overall though, it would seem like the story is one of change coming to Scotland’s towns, albeit slowly. Again, this might be expected given the 50 years of decentralisation that has been occurring and that we are now trying to counteract.
Following presentations on the report by Matthew Hopkinson and Leigh Sparks, the panel (details above) got stuck into the issues raised and what they saw happening on the ground in their businesses, places and contacts across the country. A number of themes emerged in the course of the discussion, including some directly raised from the engaged audience:
- Towns and places are in a state of flux and change and adaptation to the new consumer and business realities is essential for successful places
- This in many cases may mean a reduction in space – “the 5 streets in Elgin are now 3 too many” – both generally and at unit level
- There is an urgent need to diversify use in centres and to focus on people living in towns and above ground floor units – this needs to be a focus to bring life back to the town
- Some of the decline in the BMG index may be due to the rise of alternative affordable credit systems which have grown strongly in Scotland
- How do we focus on reducing the impacts on retailers of cost increases and on ensuring small businesses compete on an equal footing?
- Will the rates revaluation in Scotland actually be used to promote a fairer and less bureaucratic system?
The discussion was lively and thought provoking and suggested a real engagement in finding solutions to the problems of our towns. It is important to recall that the evidence is showing that many towns and places are “getting it” and making strides in improving their situations.
Will vacancy rates continue to fall in Scotland’s towns? Stay tuned for next December!
Full details of the report and how to purchase a copy can be found here.
The introduction to the report (by myself and Lorraine Ferguson) can be found here.
The Press Release from LDC about the report which provides some specific results for selected towns can be found here.