DEBATE around the need for an online sales tax to create a level playing field with physical retailers has come into sharp focus with the surge in online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic, with two-thirds of those attending a virtual event on the future of Scotland’s high streets calling on the UK Government to take action.
The Future of Our High Streets, a virtual event organised by The Herald in partnership with international law firm CMS, heard wide-ranging views from a panel of experts with input from attendees who voted 66 per cent in favour of the introduction of an online sales tax. Asked if the shift from the high street to internet shopping during the pandemic will be permanent, 79% said they expect the trend to continue.
Yesterday’s business breakfast event shone a spotlight on the changing face of high streets and town centres – not just in relation to the challenges faced by businesses during the current crisis but also pre-Covid concerns surround the creeping shift to online shopping and ongoing concerns about the current rates system.
While it is widely acknowledged that the coronavirus crisis has accelerated some of the structural changes that were already under way on the high street, the debate centred on the need for collaboration with businesses, policymakers, landlords and – crucially – communities all involved in discussions about the way forward.
Keynote speaker Vivienne King, chief executive of Revo, which represents the UK’s retail property sector, stressed that high streets and town centres are the “social and economic heartbeat of communities across the country”. Ms King added that only a physical retail environment could create the “identity and sense of place that bind people together”.
“We need to think about use of space,” she said. “Retail space can be reimagined to create mixed-use space. But it’s not about replacing retail. It requires radical thinking.”