The past year has been tumultuous for our country and for Scotland’s retail industry.

Like never before, retailers showed their worth when it was most necessary. We should be full of admiration for the way retailers and the skilled and passionate people who work in the sector have responded to the onslaught of Covid.

Shops worked around the clock to replenish shelves, keep the nation fed and supplied, and to create a safer shopping experience. The industry proved itself to be a force for good, and was in the vanguard of developing workplace Covid safety protocols, subsequently adopted by government.

Retailers implemented these new protocols and mitigations quickly, reconfigured stores, invested significantly in PPE and customer protections, and ramped up their online and logistics capabilities. It’s been a phenomenal effort in a short period, and everyone can be rightly proud of their efforts.

All of this has come against a backdrop of repeated lockdowns and restrictions, and multiple changes in rules, which thwacked the sector. Shopper footfall has fallen like a stone, with shop vacancies spiking to a five-year high. £3 billion of retail sales have been lost, and the current lockdown is set to add a further £650 million to this tally. It has been a singularly bruising time.

2020 witnessed an acceleration of the transition already underway within retail, in particular a noticeable uplift in online shopping. The ability to trade online kept some firms afloat. However, even in the midst of a pandemic, the vast majority of retail sales continue to be made in stores, when such premises are permitted to trade.

So bricks still trump clicks. Those retailers who have adapted and innovated, building a strong offer which works for customers, online and in-store, have usually come out best. Others meanwhile – including high street stalwarts – have felt the full toll exerted by Covid restrictions and economic downturn. That shake-out is set to continue and there may well be more difficult news in the coming weeks.

2021 does hold out a brighter prospect for the industry, albeit the early months will be tough. The brilliant news on Covid vaccines should help quell the virus and help restore consumer confidence, once the vaccine becomes widely available.

In the meantime, retailers will be looking for clarity over re-opening and over business rates reliefs for the coming year, and for the upcoming Scottish Budget to boost consumer activity via a high street voucher scheme. If government can support shops through the shutdown and deliver the much-needed vaccine then we can look forward to better days for Scotland’s stores.

Further encouraging news comes with the First Minister having committed to working with us to develop a Scottish retail strategy. This should result in a more coherent approach from policy makers. Retail is evolving – it is vital industry and government work in partnership to shape what comes next. Failure to do so could have consequences for jobs and for retail destinations.

Of keen interest will be the outcome of the Holyrood poll, and how it impacts economic decisions. There needs to be a thorough debate about how the next devolved parliament will help lift economic prosperity, compared to the mediocre growth rate experienced prior to the pandemic. As SRC’s manifesto will make clear, every policy should be tested against a simple benchmark – will it make Scotland a better place for retailers and others to invest.

With a supportive policy environment the retail industry will emerge from this crisis recast – less ubiquitous perhaps, but leaner and more agile.

David Lonsdale is director of the Scottish Retail Consortium