Retailers have demanded more support as the coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to an increase in shop closures.
The latest data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) does not reveal the full impact of the crisis on businesses, with the shop vacancy rate in Scotland of 12.9% in the second quarter of the year mirroring the figure from the first.
But Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) director David Lonsdale warned: “The upheaval wrought by coronavirus has yet to wash through these figures, which is unsurprising given most shops have been shuttered for much of the past quarter and were permitted to reopen only in the last few weeks.
“That said, even prior to the pandemic and the tumult of the past few months, one in every eight stores in Scotland lay empty, a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges facing the industry over recent times.”
He urged Scots to visit stores rather than shopping online, to support high streets and the wider retail sector, but he added the survival of the industry will be determined by choices made by government.
He said help will be needed on rents for retail properties and on business rates – for which a 100% reduction was given to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses near the start of the pandemic.
Mr Lonsdale said: “Scotland’s shops and retail destinations will only survive with the ongoing patronage of the public.
“The extent to which retail remains the cornerstone of our high streets and can continue to employ hundreds of thousands of Scots will also depend on the decisions made by parliaments and governments.
“Government support for retail during the current crisis has been significant and rapid.
“But with retailers’ revenues falling short, more support is likely to be required – on rent payments which for many have been accumulating, and on business rates in order to avoid next spring’s ‘reverse cliff edge’ when 100% rates are scheduled to be reinstated.”
According to the findings from the BRC, Scotland was ranked fifth of all UK regions for retail vacancies.
Greater London was first with 9.1% vacancies, and the north east of England was in last position with 16.6% of shops empty.
However, the figures show vacancy rates in the second quarter were worse north of the border than they were in England, where the collective rate was 12.4%.