As forewarned in a post a couple of weeks ago, last Tuesday saw a wide range of people gather to hear about the work we have been doing with The Local Data Company analyzing some of their data on Scotland’s Towns. The venue – KPMG’s offices, with their great view to the Castle – provided a suitable backdrop to discuss change in retailing. The event – excellently chaired by Jane Bradley (@janekbradley), The Scotsman’s Consumer Affairs Correspondent seemed to provoke a wide range of interest and ideas.
There were two presentations, by Matthew Hopkinson (@MattheHopkinson) of the Local Data Company and myself (@sparks_stirling) outlining the background to the data collection by LDC and the broad trends they are seeing in the UK and then the detail of the analysis of the broad patterns identified in the analysis for Scotland’s Towns. This was followed by a lively question and answer session. There was obvious interest in the room in the work and its implications and this was also shown by the extensive media coverage that day (details can be found of some of the pieces – such as the one in the Scotsman – in the media commentary section of this blog). Douglas Fraser (@BBCDouglasF) of BBC Scotland also took the data and produced a great segment for the evening news:
The audience was drawn from a variety of organizations, including Scottish and local government, retailers, Business Improvement Districts and Town Centre Managers as well as other interested agencies. Malcolm Fraser, the architect and author of the National Towns Centre Review (the Fraser Review) was present and commented on the usefulness and importance of using such data to take the discussion and analysis of Scotland’s Towns forward.
There was a lot to debate about the report and the issues it raises. In the New Year I will reflect in more detail about the presentations, the data presented and the implications of the full report. Anyone interested at this time in the overall findings can obtain a Free Summary from the Local Data Company (0203 111 4393); this presents our commentary and headlines from the data. Introductions from Matthew, Jane and myself can be found in the videos below:
Three particular issues perhaps generated the most potential for debate. One of the elements of the report is the proportion of various retail outlets in towns, and we put together alcohol, money, gambling and charity shops in one calculation. Malcolm Fraser sparked a discussion by saying we should not see charity shops in such a negative light and these associations were not appropriate (we had also done charity shops on their own – unlike the other types – as we had half thought this might be an issue). But if you look at what has been happening in Wales and some of the commentary about clusters of uses, including charity shops, then it is clear that there are a variety of views about the benefit and otherwise of charity shops. This is an issue that deserves more airing, especially around clustering.
The second topic, almost inevitably, was the potential structure and nature of retailing in Scotland as an independent country. Would independence have any effect on retailing and towns? My current answer to that is that it depends on policy pursued in Scotland and the Remainder of the UK. But, UK retailers are already concerned about divergence of requirements in a our devolved world. Independence just adds to the uncertainty and possibly complexity. Whether it is good or bad for them – or more accurately which retailers it is good or bad for – would depend on policies and practices. Again there is more to be said in due course on this.
What has been clear thus far is that Scotland does seem to have a desire to focus on towns and to recognise the need to provide reasons for people to engage with place; one of the reasons will undoubtedly be retailing, the nature and significance of this will depend on the local context and local opportunities, as Scotland’s towns vary so much.
The final issue for today, and one thing that I hoped came through clearly in the presentation – and in the report and summary – is the massive potential to use data such as that collected by The Local Data Company for a much more informed and detailed analysis and discussion about the state of retailing in Scotland’s Towns. This depth of data, and its potential at so many levels can drive local and national understanding and policy. One of my other tasks in the New Year is to flesh out exactly what could be done, and what else could be added to what is already there.