So you think you know Scottish Towns?


Almost two years ago, Scotland’s Towns Partnership launched Understanding Scottish Places (USP) – a data platform to provide for the very first time consistent and comparable data on 479 Scottish Towns.  At a time when funding is tight, there was a desire to drive evidence based decision – taking and to challenge some existing perceptions of places.

The USP project, commissioned and funded by the Scottish Government and the Carnegie UK Trust was carried out by a consortium comprising Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and ourselves at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, all marshalled by the Carnegie UK Trust.

The outcome – Understanding Scottish Places (USP) – launched in April 2015 can be found at  The data platform has been hugely positively received, witnessed over 50,000 web hits and been the base for various wider developments including the FSB Scotland Entrepreneurial Towns initiative last week.  It has become the starting point for conversations, discussion, debate, strategy and policy, as envisaged conceptually by the Fraser Review and practically by the USP consortium.


But, even at launch, we were well aware that this was the start and not the end of something.  Our own analysis and user feedback pointed to gaps and desires.  Some were unattainable, falling on the alter of rigour, consistency and comparability – the bed rock of USP.  Others were very simply biding their time or needed to be realigned to our 479 towns to meet our strict criteria.

This week we unveil USP 2 – the enhanced version of USP.  Following user feedback and developments in data availability, USP 2 introduces several new features:

  • Commuter flows – a new indicator showing the top daily flows in and out of each town;
  • Tourist bed places – a new indicator showing tourism accommodation capacity in each town;
  • Grand funding – a new indicator with the amount of grant funding allocated in each town from four major grant funders in Scotland;
  • Diversity of retail offer – a new indicator showing the diversity of the retail sector in each town, which also appears in the inter-relationship scale;
  • New indicators showing population and employment change over time;
  • An ‘Export to PDF’ tool for individual towns, to be able to more easily download your town’s results; and
  • New and original descriptions of each town, mentioning history, geography and economy.

In addition other, improvements have been made:

  • The ‘number of GP surgeries’ indicator was converted into number of individual GPs. Then, ‘number of GPs’ and ‘number of dentists’ were combined into one indicator, giving a better picture of health professional presence in each town;
  • The experience of scrolling past the USP map was made more user friendly;
  • An A-Z case study series of USP Your Town Audits is also being created.

We believe these are substantial enhancements and additions.  Go and have a look and play and tell us what you like and don’t like.  What’s missing and what could be enhanced?  As before, this revision is a stepping stone to further enhancements in v3 in 2019 or earlier if possible. We already have commitments on greenspace data and are in discussions for culture–heritage and digital data.  Can you help with these or others?

We also want to know how USP is used and where it has an impact.  We know for example it has lead to policy decisions in some places and opened conversations in others.  In some cases Audits of towns have followed to enhance the data USP provides and extend it – the Your Town Audits section of USP provides details on how to go about this and we encourage you to take part in this part of the process of really understanding your – and our – towns.

As Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government and Housing, commented:

“There is some fascinating information on this website and I would encourage both professionals and members of the public to visit to see how the tool could be used to benefit their local area. Its new features will support efforts to create flourishing places for all those who live, work in and visit our towns.”

So, if you are interested in Scotland’s Towns you need to get behind and involved in USP and get on to explore whether you really do know Scotland’s Towns.  You might be surprised and inspired.


Leigh Sparks (University of Stirling), Phil Prentice (Scotland’s Towns Partnership), Anne Findlay (University of Stirling)  and Gina Wilson (Carnegie UK Trust) announcing the launch of USP2 at The Scottish Parliament

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Carnegie UK Trust, Data, Institute for Retail Studies, Local Authorities, Places, Planning, Research, Retail Policy, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Towns Typology, Understanding Scottish Places, University of Stirling, USP and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to So you think you know Scottish Towns?

  1. Pingback: Understanding Welsh Places | Stirlingretail

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