BUSINESS leaders have called for urgent review to save the nation's high streets after new analysis showed Scotland had lost 16,000 retail jobs in seven years.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) made the discovey having tracked changes in job numbers, shops and retail turnover between 2008 and 2015, using Scottish Government data.

They found 16,000 jobs were lost across Scotland with just five out of 32 local authorities reporting an increase.

The SRC has called on local and national government to take rapid action to influence the pace of change and buy time for new investments.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said said more needs to be done to support business growth and long term investment to breathe new life into town centres including a "more competitive" business rates regime.

HeraldScotland: CBI Scotland director Tracy Black flagged the rise in optimism but described the fall in output and orders as a “wake-up call”. Picture: Kirsty Anderson.

“The figures obviously give cause for concern, with many of the firms affected having a large economic footprint in local communities – particularly in terms of jobs. Not only are we seeing the sustained impact of tough conditions for retailers but also major changes in the way that people shop," she said.

Stuart Mackinnon, external affairs manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland, said it was time to re-examine the Scottish Government's town centre review to find out if public bodies are abiding by the 'town centre first' principle agreed four years ago.


“Scotland’s independent shops on our high streets are under pressure, mostly due to changing shopping habits, the collapse of many big retail chains, and the withdrawal of many big private and public organisations from our town centres," he said.

“To ensure that our local places are a success in the years to come we need more diverse local high streets with a broad base of retail and non-retail, big business and small business, and private and public.

“In some areas, there’s a glut of now empty chain stores but a shortage of housing or offices. We need to examine what the barriers are to putting these premises to better."

Among those bucking the trend were Midlothian and East Dunbartonshire with retail employment rises of 14.71 per cent and 2.78% respectively.

The average drop in shop jobs across Scotland was 6.3%, which Edinburgh and Aberdeen were above but Dundee and Glasgow fell below.

The worst falls were in Inverclyde, which lost of quarter of its retail workforce, and Falkirk, which fell by 27.27%.

The SRC found some link between falling shop numbers and a reduction in retail employment, with Falkirk having the highest reduction in shop numbers at 15.24% and Inverclyde shortly behind at 14%.

Across Scotland, only three local authorities - East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire and Midlothian - recorded a rising number of shops.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, SRC head of policy, called for more action, including scrapping plans to charge extra business rates on out-of-town shopping centresand for more councils to use a discretionary rates relief system.

"This analysis demonstrates how retail change is affecting the whole of Scotland, but in very different ways," he said.


"For some communities this is leading to new opportunities; with investment in new jobs, more productive and interesting work, and different business models.

"However, we should not be blind to the serious repercussions these changes can have for local communities.

"We are seeing shop closures and job losses which will reduce retail involvement in some town centres.

"That change is inevitable, and presents a real challenge to government and local authorities.

"They have the power to influence the pace of change, buying time for new investment and developments, but only if the scale of this transformation is recognised, and swift and coordinated action taken."

Scottish Labour's economy spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the figures were "troubling" and that it would look to support more retail apprenticeships and create a dedicated minister for small business as part of a plan to "make the economy work for the man, not the few".

"The SNP has failed to support Scotland's high streets and small businesses for too long, damaging our wider economy and employment levels. That is unacceptable.

"Scottish Labour has been calling for a retail strategy for some time now and the SNP has responded at a glacial pace. This level of complacency is shocking."

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “We need a transformational investment in education to deliver the highly skilled high wage Scottish economy of the future.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We want local authorities to do all that they can to support businesses in their high streets, including giving full consideration to any request to use their powers to create local business rates relief or using any additional income they generate through the Business Rates Incentivisation Scheme.

"We are doing all we can to support the Scottish economy, including maintaining a competitive non-domestic rates regime for businesses in Scotland and we provide the most competitive rates relief in the UK, worth around £720 million, including the Small Business Bonus Scheme, which alone lifts 100,000 properties out of rates altogether."

The study also showed that Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow had fewer shop closures than the Scottish average of a 7.55% reduction while Stirling recorded a 9.23% drop.

Retail turnover analysis proved slightly more positive, with Edinburgh and the Lothians recording strong growth over the seven years of between 23% and 56%.

The Scottish average was a 8.8% increase but turnover fell in 11 local authorities, with Inverclyde the worse, down by almost half (48.76%).