At various points during the life of this blog I have turned it over to guest bloggers to cover a topic of their choosing. Sometimes this has been because something they have said or have written has caught my eye and I thought it would be interesting; on other occasions it has struck me that their viewpoint is an interesting or important one.
The offer is there for anyone who thinks they have a valuable 500 words or so to say about Scottish Retail to contact me and let me have their thoughts. If I think they have some value in being “out there” then I’ll run them. That of course does not necessarily mean that I agree with their words or endorse them.
This post is one such guest blog. A couple of weeks ago the Scottish Retail Consortium published a short document addressed to the Scottish Government and aimed at raising issues for their next budget due in the Autumn. As a body with a wide coverage in Scotland the SRC’s views on the state of retailing and what is needed to be done to help the sector are of considerable interest. They are not the only retail voice obviously, but they are significant.
So, I invited David Lonsdale, Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium to pen a few words for me. What follows is what he sent in, and it covers the costs and ease of doing business, especially in town centres.
Not unsurprisingly, and probably not controversially David raises the problems and issues of business rates, which affect many retailers. Finding agreeable solutions for all might be another issue, as his comments on the “health levy” hint at. More surprisingly, at least to me, he raises building standards as a problem for retailers, especially in the context of speed and flexibility. This might be an issue well worth exploring in more detail in the future.
So, over to David:
“There are few industries which play as important a role as retail in keeping down costs for households, creating jobs, and investing in our communities.
Household finances continue to be challenged through a combination of weak income growth and inflation-busting rises in the price of essentials like electricity. Retailers are responding to this squeeze and strong industry-wide competition with keen prices and promotions, helping to keep down the cost of living. Prices in shops have fallen for 13 consecutive months.
The industry’s 255,000 jobs make it Scotland’s largest private sector employer, some 14% of the total non-government workforce.
The industry is working hard to sustain value for money and build on its strong record on jobs and community investment, whilst at the same time adapting to the profound structural changes it faces. The fact that a broader range of indicators important to the health of Scotland’s retail industry have begun to point in a favourable direction is promising, but cannot be taken for granted. Support from policy makers will be crucial to maintaining this trend.
The Scottish Government’s next Budget, expected in October, provides a perfect opportunity to assist.
At the heart of the Budget should be measures which keep down the cost of doing business and cost of living, deliver a smarter regulatory environment, and give retailers the tools to grow. To assist, the Scottish Retail Consortium has put forward 24 detailed policy recommendations in our new paper, Scottish Retail: Creating Jobs, Investing in Communities, Boosting Growth.
Two aspects in particular require immediate attention, the cost and ease of doing business in our town centres.
Business rates will generate £2.9 billion next year, but the system is no longer fit for purpose. It is a disincentive to invest in premises, the tax only ever rises, and retailers pay disproportionately more than other sectors. A longer term overhaul will give retailers the confidence to invest in outlets, create more jobs and contribute to a revival of our high streets. Doing nothing on rates could lead to the country missing out on investment, career opportunities and innovation. Doing nothing is not an option.
In the short term, business rates should not rise faster than elsewhere in the UK. The £95 million large retailer levy has proved a conspicuous blot on claims that Scotland has the most generous rates regime in the UK, and the levy must end. The Business Rates Incentivisation Scheme needs re-invigorated, with the resulting revenues spent on town centre regeneration.
As I visit SRC members across the country an issue that consistently comes to the fore is building standards. Shopkeepers tell me that the current system is holding back retail expansion and job creation. A faster and more flexible approach would help get new or refurbished establishments trading promptly and spur much needed investment in retail premises, aiding high streets and the retail supply chain.
Action on these fronts will help retailers make an even greater economic and social contribution to our country.”