On the 2nd December we launched our second Retailing in Scotland’s Towns and Cities report, at what we hope will become an annual Retail Summit date in the calendar. Our partnership with the Local Data Company has, in our view, developed a consistent and increasingly comprehensive coverage of the retail make-up across Scotland’s towns and cities. With our ESRC PhD studentship starting in the New Year we intend to enhance our analysis in breadth and depth and develop new understandings of retail change in towns.
There was quite a lot of coverage of the results – some of which, including The Scotsman and the BBC, are itemised here. Various radio, TV, press, online and other conversations were had by both Matthew Hopkinson of the Local Data Company, myself and some of our panellists. A summary video of the event is available. Thanks go to our panel: Jane Bradley from the Scotsman (chair), Malcolm Fraser, John Lee (SGF), Paul McClennan (who stepped in at the eleventh hour for the “whipped” Chic Brodie MSP, though Chic nonetheless made a brief set of valuable comments), and to KPMG for their hosting.
Given the coverage, and the availability of our summary report (available for download here), I do not propose to go through the presentation or the report. Instead I want to summarise, what for me were the key messages I tried to convey on the day:
- The headline figure is that in 2014 the vacancy rate in Scotland is down to 13.7% from 14.5%. This is still higher than the GB figure (13.3%) but the reduction in Scotland is faster than that in GB as a whole. This is good news and reflects changes underway in our towns.
- Whilst the headline ‘snapshot’ figure grabs the attention, it is the longer run trends that are really interesting. As the data set builds year on year so more is revealed. This contrast between ‘snapshot’ and ‘trend’ is really where attention should be focused as the snapshots can highlight places in particular positions, often for good reasons, e.g. Denny. An illustration of this is the negative reaction from East Kilbride to their vacancy rate for 2014; but as Margaret McCulloch MSP correctly says, snapshot data need to be put in context and trend data is more valuable showing change over time and in the light of what types of change are underway.
- The data shows that there is huge variability in both make-up and vacancy rates across Scotland’s Towns. This variation is reducing however, but still reflects towns at very different states and different trajectories. The local nature of many of the issues comes through, prompting thoughts of local understanding and action and a range of local town, and not just retail, ‘solutions’.
- Another headline grabbing figure was the nature of persistent vacancy with 40% of vacant shops in 2014 having been vacant since 2012. This points to the persistency of problems in some locations and the need to consider alternative uses for these sites. Again this is a localised issue in many cases, but again also shows the value of building and analysing data sets over time periods.
- Our search for explanation for vacancy rates across towns, using new census data and our emerging USP towns typology (more on this in the New Year) based on the Census, provided some weak explanations linked to size of town and deprivation. But so weak are the relationships, it is safe to say that whilst there is some association, deprivation or size are not predictors of vacancy rates.
- Finally, it is worth re-emphasising a point made in the discussion on the day. Snapshot vacancy rates tell us something, but it is when we have these rates for a number of years and when we combine this data with other data sets and look at the micro-level that real understanding begins. Ally that understanding to local knowledge and we begin to see how communities can understand, plan and re-think their centres.
Understandably, a lot of people want to obtain the full report, or even the data, for free. It has to be remembered that the LDC invests heavily in the data collection, storage and visualisation on an ongoing basis. It is not, at this point, a government funded data set, nor a statutory return or Census, nor is it the University’s to disseminate.
We access the data and analyse it and put as much out in the public domain as we can, without losing commercial value for our partners. If you want to explore the detailed data then contact Matthew at LDC and he’ll be delighted to discuss what can be done.
In due course, when I recover from Christmas and Hogmanay I will put up some slides from my presentation for download and some of the tables we created via our analyses. And if you are interested in the analysis, or what else we intend to do, then get in touch. Or if you have ideas of what you think such data can reveal for your area, then we are happy to discuss. Over the next year or so, we will be looking for partners in towns to work with our ESRC project on specific cases, so if interested in this, then please contact me. We are certainly very willing to work closely with town partners and really investigate what the data shows and means for your towns – offering to work with us, is one way of getting sight of your local data!