Retailing in Scotland is one of the largest and most important sectors of the economy. As a Professor of Retail Studies, I could hardly say anything else. But, with 10% or so of the business community and the same proportion of employment, retailing has an economic significance for Scotland. The March 2011 DTZ report for the Scottish Government makes the case for retailing’s contribution in Scotland. Yet it is more than that; as one of the key sectors with which visitors engage, retailing also has a perceptual contribution to the image and performance of Scotland.
So in our current election, the parties must have lots to say about such a significant sector … right? Cue tumbleweed rolling down the tram lines of Princes Street …
According to the newspapers the Greens want stricter controls on alcohol and tobacco pricing and availability and the Scottish Socialists want to cut supermarket prices. And the rest … pretty much nothing, although on hustings the SNP have resurrected the “Tesco tax”.
A quick and crude download and search of the manifestos (search term=retail) produces the table below. Of the 310 or so manifesto pages produced this election there is barely a mention about retailing. The Tories want to stop another re-run of this Parliament’s SNP “Tesco tax” (why is it not the “Asda” tax or the “Waitrose” tax?), a policy that does not appear in the SNP manifesto, perhaps the biggest surprise. Alcohol sales are the focus for a couple of parties, yet minimum pricing was defeated last year. Community based initiatives appear, and one one hopes that the investment in the necessary skills and training are available to make the most of these. The only “big” policy is the local competition test from the Lib Dems, which is their UK position.
|Party||Manifesto pages||Retail mentions|
|Prohibit sector specific rates supplements (i.e. the ‘Tesco’ Tax)|
|Support independent retailers who sell alcohol by quality not volume; recognise that town centres are more than retail based|
|Name and shame retailers who supply alcohol under age|
|Local competition test for planning applications for new retail developments|
|Deposit/vending machines for recycling in retailers; community based food networks for local suppliers to work with retailers|
|Network of community run supermarkets specialising in healthy local food produce at cheapest possible prices.|
So what does this lack of interest in retailing mean? Retailing in Scotland is perfect? Not relevant? Taken for granted? Not that important? Any or all of the above?
There are big issues for retailing and retailers in Scotland. Given its importance you might think that there could have been more discussion around issues such as:
- Enhancing the number and type of retail jobs in Scotland
- Rethinking our town centres to reflect their new functions
- Fitting retail planning and localism together to produce modern services and strong communities
- Generating a diversity of retail experience for residents and visitors
- Broadening the opportunities for Scottish food and non-food producers to widen their markets
- Or even a proper discussion on the merits and demerits of focusing on a “retail levy” given the furore last Autumn and into this year and the illogicality of aspects of its previous incarnation.
Perhaps all the parties think that retailing can be left to its own devices and the economic cycle or that there are too many pressing other issues. Or perhaps it reflects a lack of understanding of how retailing functions in modern Scotland and the centrality of retailing and retail facilities to the quality of life of Scots and our visitors? Either way these manifestos make depressing retail reading; one suspects the real retail battleground awaits the election outcome.