Party leaders have outlined how they plan to support Aberdeen following the news the city may lose its last department store.
Last week the north-east was rocked by the news John Lewis plans to close its store in Aberdeen – the only remaining department store in the north of Scotland.
The retailer’s plans to close its branch on George Street provoked a huge public backlash, with more than 25,000 people signing petitions and hundreds more writing letters asking the chain to reconsider.
The closure of the store could lead to the loss of around 265 jobs – the latest in a long line of blows for the local economy.
City leaders fear a “domino effect” where the loss of the store has an impact on other businesses in Aberdeen and the north-east, prompting calls for government support.
The council’s administration has written to the leader of each main political party urging them to support the campaign.
We asked the leaders what they will do to support the city if they form the next Scottish Government following May’s election.
Here is what they said.
Nicola Sturgeon – Scottish National Party
“Throughout the pandemic, our retail sector has taken a massive hit and this is reflected by the unfortunate and incredibly sad decision that John Lewis took to close its doors in Aberdeen – a decision I hope it is willing to reconsider.
“As we recover from the pandemic and out of lockdown, businesses need to be at the heart of that and a re-elected SNP Government would stand ready to work with the Aberdeen taskforce and all parties in the city to ensure Aberdeen City Centre is vibrant and attractive.
“The SNP in government have already backed business in the city with more than £950m of support during the pandemic.
“Re-electing an SNP Government will ensure Aberdeen City receives a raft of measures to regenerate the area, including access to the £2m City Centre Recovery Fund and the £50m town centre fund, as well as £15m set aside in this year’s budget specifically to help support and create jobs in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.
“An SNP government stands ready to support Aberdeen, to revitalise the city centre, and to support investment where it is needed.”
Douglas Ross – Scottish Conservatives
“I’d like to thank everybody involved with the taskforce for working together to try and keep John Lewis in Aberdeen.
“News of the planned closure was greeted with dismay across the North East, and I know this must be a really difficult time for the 265 members of staff.
“I hope that a solution can be found that will allow John Lewis to maintain a presence in the city.
“The Covid pandemic and its accompanying restrictions have accelerated problems that already existed for retail and our town centres.
“Aberdeen has also been hit worse than most, with a collapse in oil prices and a business rates system that takes far more than it gives.
“The truth is that the SNP government hasn’t given the region the attention it deserves.
“That’s why I launched a campaign last week for a fair share for the north-east, including a £1 billion regional enterprise agency, upgrades to key infrastructure, and rolling out broadband far faster than the SNP.”
Anas Sarwar – Scottish Labour
“Our high streets have been decimated through the pandemic and the loss of John Lewis is a terrible blow for Aberdeen city centre, its employees and customers.
“Scottish Labour is a pro-business party and is committed to launching a Business Network to establish solid relations with employers across the country.
“City centre businesses will be vital in rebuilding our economy. We will focus on jobs and retail to help kick start our post-pandemic recovery, and ensure our high streets thrive once more.”
Willie Rennie – Scottish Liberal Democrat
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The closure of John Lewis leaves a major hole in the middle of Aberdeen. We are determined to build a strong and flourishing economy in the North East so that we can sustain international brands like John Lewis in the city.
“In the recent Scottish budget the Scottish Liberal Democrats secured £15m for transition training specifically for the North East boost the economy and new industries.
“Under Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals, we will reform business rates to take the burden off high street retailers and give those shops the ability to compete with online retailers.
“We will also give local authorities more powers to get to reshape their city and town centres into vibrant and flourishing places that people want to visit, spend money and set up shop.”
Maggie Chapman – Lead north-east candidate, Scottish Greens
“The John Lewis closure is devastating news for the workers and it shows how we really need to rethink our high streets after the pandemic, to make them more resilient and focused on the communities that live in and rely on them.
“If we want our town centres to thrive, we need attractive public urban spaces that people want to spend time in.
“This means levelling the playing field for independent shops, cooperatives like John Lewis and for community spaces, and stop giving tax-dodging online retailers incentives and tax breaks.”