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Action needed says FSB

Investment Bank ‘should direct funds into ailing town centres’

Hamilton is among those towns seeking new ways to enliven its town centre (pic: Terry Murden)

A small business group is calling for almost £1 billion to be invested in reviving the country’s ailing town centres.

The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland has issued a number of measures including a standard small business lease for commercial premises, shared banking hubs and turning department stores into art galleries.

In a new report, Transforming Towns, it says at least 414 bank branch, shop and other closures have decimated Scotland’s 479 towns and villages since the start of 2016.

It wants the Scottish Government and the UK Government to direct the new Scottish National Investment Bank and the UK Stronger Towns Fund respectively to invest in these places. 

FSB argues that these funds should set aside £90 million every year over the next decade to invest in projects to make Scottish towns better places in which to work, live and run a business.     

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “More people in Scotland live in towns than cities. That’s why governments in Edinburgh and London must make a generational investment in our towns to overcome their current challenges and prepare them for how we’ll work and live in the future.”

The report highlights innovative work to fill empty units, but urges Ministers in Edinburgh to establish a commission to tackle the rise of vacant properties.

Andrew McRae said: “After the wave of recent closures, we need to rethink how we use our high streets. A new commission should investigate the barriers to bringing vacant properties back into use, even if that means turning offices into housing, or department stores into art galleries. 

“Similarly, we need to make it cheap and easy for independent businesses to take up high street property and we believe a standard small business lease could be part of this solution.”

In the last three years, over 300 local bank branches have closed or are winding down across Scotland. FSB has warned that the big banks must deliver on their promise of shared banking hubs, especially in the largest branch-less towns.

The report also argues for a new town-by-town business support programme – rolled out by Scottish Enterprise – to help high street businesses make the most of new technologies.

The Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and Programme Director of Scotland’s Improvement Districts, Phil Prentice, welcomed the report. He said: “The time is right for a renewed focus and investment for our town centres and high streets. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and town centres are the backbone of our communities.”

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