The SNP has pledged to help Scotland’s high streets, with a promise of cash being spent to encourage Scots to shop locally and support retail businesses that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The SNP announced if it wins the next Scottish Parliament election it will spend £275 million over the next five years on community regeneration and to help revitalise town centres.
SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also promised there would be £10 million for the Scotland Loves Local campaign, to encourage people to shop in their own area wherever they can.
The commitments come after the Scottish Government extended the 100% rates rebate given to key sectors hardest hit by coronavirus – including retail and hospitality – for 2021-22 at a cost of £719 million.
Ms Sturgeon thanked businesses – many of whom have been forced to close their doors during the pandemic for the “sacrifices they have made to help get the virus under control over the last 12 months”.
She stated: “Revitalising our town centres and communities was already a priority of the SNP government before the pandemic struck, but that agenda is now essential.”
The First Minister stated: “In government, the SNP has already gone further than the UK Government by extending 100% rates relief for the hardest-hit sectors for a full 12 months.
“And if re-elected, we will take forward plans to spend £275 million over the life of the parliament to support community-led regeneration and town centre revitalisation – as well as supporting the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods.”
She said this would be a “significant government investment” but said everyone could play their part in helping their local high street.
Ms Sturgeon added: “All of us can help our communities, and protect and create local jobs, by spending locally when we can, and we’ll build on our Scotland Loves Local campaign to highlight the many benefits of doing so.”
With some 230,000 people employed directly in Scotland’s retail sector industry leaders stressed the next Scottish Government must give the industry “breathing space” to recover from the pandemic, without imposing any further “red tape”.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said ministers must put “business rates on an affordable and sustainable footing, rather than revert to pre-Covid levels which saw business rates levied at a 21-year high”.
He added: “The business rate has risen by one fifth since the start of the last decade, we need a firm timeline for lowering it.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said just 1% of the proposed cash was a new announcement, with both the rates relief and town centre revitalisation funding having been previously announced as Scottish Government policy.
She said: “Scotland’s businesses and high streets have been devastated by coronavirus but all the SNP is willing to offer them next term is a measly £10 million extra.
“Businesses are struggling, with many having received little or no support during the pandemic, and this pitiful offering falls well short of what is needed.
“After 14 years in Government and seven years as the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is clearly out of ideas.
“Once again she has had to resort to recycling existing policies in an attempt to hide the pathetic offer she is actually making to Scotland’s businesses.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “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.”