SCOTLAND'S towns and cities experienced the biggest increase in Britain in the number of people heading to their shops last month, as sports fans descended on the country for Glasgow's Commonwealth Games.

Total footfall soared by 4.4 per cent in July - well ahead of all other areas in the UK - and it was particularly busy on the high street where the number of shoppers rose by a massive six per cent year-on-year.

The only other area in Britain to record an increase was the south-west, which saw the number of shoppers rise by 0.2 per cent.

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The figures supplied by the Springboard Retail Footfall Monitor and the Scottish Retail Consortium found that the number of people visiting shopping centres in Scotland rose by 1.6 per cent, while footfall to out-of-town locations rose by four per cent.

Scottish shop vacancies rates also improved, with 9.1 per cent of stores empty compared to 10.7 per cent from April to June - meaning that the rate is now lower than the UK average for the first time since October last year.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: "This is a sprightly set of results.

"Footfall on Scotland's high streets and shopping destinations rose 4.4 per cent in July, the best performing part of the UK, buoyed by large numbers who came here for the Commonwealth Games and by the efforts of retailers to tempt shoppers with keen prices and promotions.

"The solid improvement in the vacancy rate is similarly encouraging, with the number of empty retail premises now below 10 per cent for the first time in two years."

He added though, with one in every 11 shops still empty, government and local authorities needed to find ways for retailers to invest in new or existing premises.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: "Undoubtedly the Commonwealth Games underpinned the 4.4 per cent rise in footfall in Scotland in July which is a significant uplift from the 0.6 per cent decline recorded in June."

She added that the improvement in vacancies rates was also probably due to the impact of the Games as traders and landlords operated "pop- up" shops and temporary lets.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: "This is wonderful news and the intention was always for Scotland to benefit from the best Games ever.

"The Games have undoubtedly been a catalyst for development that has and will renew the landscape and the opportunities available in Glasgow."

Across the UK, average footfall fell last month by 0.6 per cent from last year, though it was up slightly on the 0.7 per cent fall reported in June. Out-of-town locations fared best with a 1.7 per cent increase year-on-year.

High streets reported the largest decline, falling 1.7 per cent, consistent with the fall in June, while in shopping centres it was down 0.5 per cent, though up on the 1.2 per cent fall in June. In London, footfall fell by 1.8 per cent, while in the south-east it was down 0.9 per cent. Northern Ireland had the largest decline in footfall, down 5.2 per cent in July.

Meanwhile, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said Britain is "more than halfway towards the finish line" as the economy continues on the road to full recovery from the global financial crisis.

Mr Carney even signalled that better-than-expected growth over the successive quarters had built up momentum, with expec-tation the economy would grow by 3.5 per cent this year.

He said: "Wherever the finish line was in the depths of the crisis, we are much more than halfway towards that finish line now.

"The expansion is proceeding, momentum is more assured; the very fact we have had consistent quarters of growth in line with, or slightly better than, our forecasts shows that."