My interactions with MSPs on the subject of shopping, retailing and town centres have never been really that impressive – they probably say the same of me. If often wonder if, as they spend so much time politicking, they get more and more divorced from what is the everyday experience of Scottish consumers and of the state of our town centres and high streets.
But maybe they are beginning to catch the wave developing in Scotland about towns and town centres and the need for a proper sense of place in our country. I say this, as last week I attended the re-establishment meeting of the Cross Party group on Towns and Town Centres and was more than pleasantly surprised by the attendance in general (about 70 people) and of MSPs in particular.
There is still some formal stuff to go through to re-establish the group, but assuming there is no hold up here, then over the next couple of years it will act as a focus to channel information, policy and action through to MSPs on this critical subject. The group agreed that Margaret McCulloch MSP would be the convener and that Scotland’s Towns Partnership would be the secretariat.
The remit of the group was agreed as:
“To analyse policy prescriptions and develop ideas and innovations. This will help Scotland’s towns and town centres through the current economic climate to emerge stronger, smarter, cleaner, healthier and greener.
The group will discuss ways in which Scotland’s towns can work towards sustainable economic growth thought greater vibrancy and vitality.
The group will also consider how best to take forward recommendations from the town centre review and the government’s regeneration strategy”
The meeting, after the formal stuff, then heard presentations by Malcolm Fraser on progress and current thinking in the National Town Centres Review, Ross Martin on the actions and approaches of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and Iain Scott from Scotpreneur on what people really think about town centres and why they build businesses and work in them. The technology slightly let down the last presentation, but some of the stories and vignettes can be found in the section on town centre stories here.
There’s a long way to go and getting MSPs to an initial meeting may be the easier part of the process. There is also a gulf between talking and actions (rates revaluation anyone?), but at least the initial steps were characterised by engagement and dynamism, which had been missing previously.
So we have a forum for MSPs to learn more about the state of, and the actions needed, for our towns and town centres. Now we have to make sure that we use this in the right ways and get MSPs to take the right decisions, and make sure every town’s politicians are held to account for their local centres.