The number of empty shops fell slightly in the first quarter of the year, buoyed by an easing of Covid restrictions, figures show.
However, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) highlighted that one in six Scottish retail stores still lies empty, describing it as a “very vivid reminder of the heavy economic toll resulting from Covid and associated restrictions”.
Latest SRC data showed that in the first quarter of 2022, the Scottish shop vacancy rate decreased to 15.8%, down from 16.1% in quarter four (Q4) of 2021.
It was 0.5 percentage points higher than the same point in 2021.
Shopping centre vacancies decreased to 20.2% from 20.4% in Q4, while on the high street, they dropped to 14.8% from 15% in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Retail parks remained the location with the lowest vacancy rate and saw these drop to 12% in Q1 2022, down from 12.6% in Q4 of last year.
David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: “Buoyed by an easing of Covid restrictions and retailers’ continued ability to trade, the shop vacancy rate saw a small but nonetheless welcome reduction in the first three months of this year.
“This was a second successive quarterly improvement and was an encouraging start to the year.
“That said, the vacancy rate remains over a fifth above pre-pandemic levels and one in six Scottish retail stores still lies empty, a very vivid reminder of the heavy economic toll resulting from Covid and associated restrictions.
“Retail parks continued to fare relatively well, with shopping centres lagging.”
He said that the challenge for retail destinations will be turning this into a more sustained improvement in the months ahead, particularly as concerns over the cost of living show little sign of abating and retailers grapple with supply chain issues and cost rises.
Mr Lonsdale added: “The health of Scotland’s retail destinations is ultimately determined by the state of the overall economy and consumer sentiment, however a sharper and more urgent focus from policy makers is required too.”
Lucy Stainton, director of the Local Data Company, welcomed the decrease.
She said: “This decline in vacant space is being driven by further repurposing of retail space, growth in the independents sector and an increase in activity across the chains as well, as many brands are back on the acquisition trail after the pandemic stalled growth.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was “encouraging to see the latest figures showing the Scottish vacancy rate slightly decrease”.
“Our new retail strategy sets out how we will work with business and trade unions to deliver a strong, prosperous and vibrant retail sector, and contains specific actions to strengthen retail’s contribution to the economic and social success of our local communities.
“The Scottish Government is committed to helping business recovery and has provided more than £4.7 billion in support since the beginning of the pandemic, including around £1.6 billion in rates relief which includes a continuation of 50% retail, hospitality, and leisure rates relief for the first three months of 2022-23, capped at £27,500 per ratepayer.
“This is in addition to the action we are taking to support the continued safe return to our town and city centres, and help retailers and communities recover – not least through our £80 million Covid Economic Recovery Fund, our £6 million City Centre Recovery Fund, and the recently published Town Centre Action Plan.
“However, the biggest threat to retail recovery and consumers having income to spend is the cost-of-living crisis and we will continue to press UK Government to do more to support people and businesses during what are very tough times, exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and the pandemic.”