SCOTLAND’S high streets are facing unprecedented structural change.
The relentless advance of internet shopping, rising overheads and weak consumer sentiment are conspiring to put pressure on retailers as never before.
That pressure has been evident as several big-name store groups have reported financial difficulties in the last year. Debenhams and House of Fraser have both been sold after falling into administration amid the pressure from falling footfall and rent burdens, while others have entered Company Voluntary Arrangements – a form of insolvency – to cut their store footprints.
But moves are afoot to respond to the challenge.
The Herald will next month convene a special event to highlight how retailers, investors, communities and local authorities are leading efforts to restore vitality to high streets around the country.
With a panel of experts drawn from across the business community, attendees at The Future of Our High Streets Business Breakfast, held in association with law firm CMS, will hear about regeneration plans, ideas to develop the “experience economy” and gain an insight into the leadership and investment required to transform struggling town and city centres.
The event, which will be held on Tuesday June 4 at the CMS office at 1 West Regent, Glasgow, is open to consumers, retailers, businesses, regeneration associations, community groups and public and private organisations.
The panel includes Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council; David Lonsdale of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC); Colin Borland of the Federation of Small Businesses; Katie Moody of Princes Square; Emma Mackenzie of property investment firm NewRiver; and CMS partner Mark McMurray.
Proceedings will be opened by Allan Wernham, managing director of CMS Scotland, who said: “Our high streets are undergoing a seismic shift and CMS is delighted to be working with The Herald to deliver the Future of our High Street event where we will look at the contributions which can be made by all parts of our communities to respond to the socioeconomic, political and digital changes which are altering the face of the high street for ever.
“We look forward to being part of such a diverse panel to debate this area.”
Stuart Mackinnon, external affairs manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland, said the country’s high streets were under threat from a host of challenges. He that the organisation’s members, in particular, were feeling the effects of rising overheads, low consumer confidence, the march of internet shopping and the ongoing migration of shoppers from high streets to out of town shopping centres.
However, he did say that all was no lost from the perspective of independent businesses’.
Mr Mackinnon said: “We do know that independents often give a service you simply can’t get elsewhere.”
Mr Mackinnon highlighted the effects which sustained bank branch closures have had on towns around the country.
“We would like to see a broader range of businesses on the high streets,” he added.
Mr Lonsdale at the SRC said: “Our high streets and town centres have a great deal to offer however many need a more compelling reason for people to visit, spend time and money. With the shop vacancy rate at its highest level for five years, action is needed to make high streets attractive locations. Retail has a key role to play in that, but that role needs to reflect the modern retail industry not a halcyon mirage.
“Public policy can make a difference and there are levers that can be pulled. The Town Centre fund is a promising starting point but it’s unlikely to be enough. Just as crucially the cost burden for high street businesses remains far too high.”
To receive your complimentary ticket please register online at http://newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/future-of-our-high-street/