Representatives of 13 industry groups have jointly written to the Scottish Finance Secretary urging her to introduce a business rates discount for all retail premises for the coming year.
The organisations, including the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), the Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) told Kate Forbes the sector was “struggling in the shadow of Covid.”
Their collective call came ahead of the unveiling of the Scottish Government’s Budget, on December 9, which is expected to set the business rate and associated reliefs for the 2022/23 financial year.
Shops still struggling in the wake of Covid
In its letter, the organisations pointed out that shopper footfall had not yet returned to pre-Covid levels and shop vacancies in Scotland were at a six-year high.
They also said they recognised the support the Scottish Government had given the industry during the pandemic and the headway that had been made in recent years on “broader aspects of rates reform.”
The letter continued: “Yet for all the progress in pushing back against Covid, it’s clear the retail industry is still struggling in its shadow.
“We are almost two-thirds of the way through the current financial year and store sales and shopper footfall in Scotland have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, whilst shop vacancies have climbed to a six year high.
“As Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee noted this month, many retailers have incurred significant debt through the crisis including Covid loans and tax deferrals.”
It added: “A return to full 100% business rates from April, which were at an onerous 21-year high prior to the pandemic, will be insurmountable for many shops.”
The organisations said they had a range of ideas on how Scotland’s rates system could “better support the economic recovery in the short and longer-term.”
They concluded: “We collectively believe one measure that requires to be taken in your Budget is a further discount to business rates in 2022-23 – one that is applicable to all retail premises and reduces the burden for all stores – to reflect the market reality and provide a bridge to the next revaluation in 2023.
“This would support the survival of shops, the jobs they provide directly and in the supply chain, and the vitality of our high streets and retail destinations.”
David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: “This is an unequivocal statement from a formidable alliance of Scottish industry and trade unions that urgent action is required to support the health and recovery of the retail sector.
“Hopefully, the Finance Secretary will take heed and act in her Budget next month to reduce business rates for all retail premises.”
Other signatories of the letter included representatives of shop workers’ union Usdaw, the Scottish Property Federation and the British Sandwich and Food to Go Association.