FSB calls for tough action
Public bodies urged to halt closure of town centre premises
Public bodies should not add to the growing list of empty shops, says FSB
The Scottish government should help struggling high streets by ordering public bodies not to shut down their town centre facilities, says a small firms lobby group.
With a £50 million fund now allocated to all 32 local authorities to revive rundown shopping areas, there is concern that cutbacks are forcing public bodies to close offices, adding to the list of empty premises.
The Federation of Small Businesses argues that ministers should put added pressure on public bodies to locate more of their staff and services on high streets.
Andrew McRae, FSB Scotland’s policy chairman, said: “There’s no reason why we can’t kick off a Scottish high street renaissance if we get our public and private sectors to back our town centres. With the Scottish Government already encouraging property investment, another nudge in the right direction could get the ball rolling.
“On the other hand we can’t see one part of government trying to boost a local economy while another withdraws footfall and spending power by closing their town centre estate. Ministers must come down hard on public bodies that undermine local high streets by closing their town centre premises.”
The FSB is urging the funds to be focused on diversifying the hardest pressed local high streets, suggesting a new co-investment fund to improve and convert existing properties. FSB’s calls come as a vacant shopping mall in Kirkcaldy is for sale for just £1.
Mr McRae said: “The future of many Scottish high streets depends upon finding new uses for long-empty retail properties.
“The challenge is to make our town centres not just about shopping but also attractive places for working, living and socialising. That might mean turning an empty bank into a restaurant, a former supermarket into office space, or a long vacant shop unit into a flat.
“While the money allocated is not sufficient to transform every high street in the country, it should kick off a national debate about the future of these important local places. To maximise the economic impact, councils should focus on a small number of towns, working in partnership with local business and resident groups.”
The FSB says a new co-investment fund would integrate well with the Scottish Government’s relatively new ‘Business Growth Accelerator’ rates relief, which reduces the rates burden of those that invest in their property.
Separately, the FSB has written to the Scottish Government urging them to postpone their review into small business rates help, if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.
Mr McRae said: “Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, smaller firms may have to grapple with rapidly changing trading conditions. In those circumstances, it won’t be appropriate to undertake a review into the rates relief on which so many rely.”
Economy Secretary Derek Mackay, pictured, said: “Town centres are facing challenges as retail patterns change and evolve. That is why we are investing £50 million in a new Town Centre Fund to help communities maintain their vibrancy, creativity and accessibility, while supporting them to become more diverse and sustainable.
“This fund will enable local authorities to stimulate and support a wide range of investments which encourage town centres to diversify and flourish, creating footfall through local improvements and partnerships. We will work in partnership with COSLA and local authorities to deliver this investment.
“The Town Centre Fund is part of a wider package of measures in the budget to support businesses including maintaining a competitive business rates package which caps the increase in rate poundage below inflation; ensuring that 90% of properties in Scotland pay a lower poundage than other parts of the UK.
“The budget also continues to offer the most competitive rates relief package in the UK, including the Small Business Bonus Scheme (SBBS) which lifts over 100,000 small businesses out of rates altogether, as well as the Business Growth Accelerator, which supports all businesses large and small by providing a minimum of 12 months relief for new and improved properties. This relief has been widely welcomed by businesses and is unique in the UK.”