The future economic viability and survival of Scotland’s town centres is to be debated by an expert panel at a special online conference – ‘The Future Of Our High Streets’ – hosted by The Herald


STRONGER town centres will play a critical part in an even more vibrant Scotland in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a leading expert believes.

Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), says the community spirit witnessed across the country throughout the outbreak has strengthened local pride which can signal the dawn of a positive new era for high streets and the people around them.

Much of that has been highlighted as part of the Scotland Loves Local, spearheaded by STP with the support of the Scottish Government, which has encouraged the nation to think safety first and local first for all of their shopping and service needs.

Mr Prentice, who is also programme director for Scotland’s Improvement Districts, will share some of his insight and views as part The Future of Our High Streets, a virtual conference being hosted by The Herald on Thursday.


He said: “Scotland is undoubtedly a nation of towns, with almost two-thirds of our population and two thirds of our businesses still based there. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a number of new traits - less commuting, more home working, a growth in localism and active travel, increased community and citizenship, as well as a reconnection with the local environment and heritage. So, while the pandemic has undoubtedly presented challenges it has also created an opportunity to consider creating a better model for a future Scotland.”

Mr Prentice is a powerful advocate for the fact that towns and neighbourhoods matter greatly to creating modern economies which promise value, support increased diversity and fuel transformation.

He also believes that the strong force of localism present real opportunities in securing a greener, fairer economic recovery from the pandemic, factoring developments surrounding energy, housing transport and much more.

This, Mr Prentice believes, should see the nation’s reduced carbon footprint consolidated and maintained - building more resilience into food security and local supply chain - and include developing more digital solutions to reduce peripherality, drive innovation, improve productivity and contribute towards net zero, including more blended working patterns.


Mr Prentice said: “While the traditionally dominant economic engines of Scotland’s city centres struggle with lockdown, there appears to be something of a social, environmental and economic renaissance in our towns.

“If this is harnessed ambitiously enough, it could provide us with some answers to shape a more attractive post-Covid Scotland.

“The post Covid Scotland should no doubt be greener, fairer and healthier. A well connected transport system, enhanced digital capabilities, low-emission cities and climate action towns all have a pivotal role to play. 

“Low-carbon affordable housing, localism and community wealth building should become drivers towards a more equitable distribution of health and wealth outcomes.”

And strong high streets, neighbourhoods and town centres can be at the backbone of this all, Mr Prentice is sure.

A national review into town centres - led by Professor Leigh Sparks, deputy principal and professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, - is currently underway. It is expected to be influential in shaping the future of post-pandemic town centres across Scotland.

“The way forward is still somewhat unclear, but it’s clear that we want communities, businesses and stakeholders to create more compelling visions and plans together. Our town centres have a critical part to play in our future - and we can all play our part in helping achieve this, starting by thinking local first.

“Through all of this, of course, Scotland’s citizens need to continue with their forbearance, showing compassion to those still struggling through the worst of Covid-19.”

The Herald’s The Future of Our High Streets event is being held in association with international law firm CMS. 

Joining Mr Prentice will be keynote speaker Vivienne King of Revo, the retail property and placemaking specialist; Jackie Mulligan, founder of ShopAppy; Alan Antony, founder of Threesixty Architecture; Sophie Shannon, associate director at NewRiver; CMS partner Katie Nagy de Nagybaczon; and Miller Mathieson, managing director for Scotland and Northern Ireland at CBRE.


Leading voices in retail support Scotland Loves Local campaign

INFLUENTIAL figures from across the nation’s retail, tourism and travel sectors are backing the call for Scots shoppers to think local first.

VisitScotland, the Scottish Grocers Federation, Federation of Small Businesses and cycling charity Sustrans are all supporters of the Scotland Loves Local campaign.

They are among those promoting the message for everyone to turn their local high streets and town centres for all of their shopping and service needs wherever possible to help fuel the nation’s financial fightback from the Covid-19 pandemic.


Vicki Miller, director of marketing at VisitScotland, said: “Of the 15 million overnight trips by domestic and international visitors to Scotland, 44 per cent go shopping as an activity, contributing around £1 billion each each to the tourism economy – half of that from UK residents visiting Scotland.  

Dr Pete Cheema, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation, has highlighted the pivotal part that convenience stores have played in helping communities cope with the consequences of the pandemic.


He said: “Customers have embraced shopping locally and the sector has captured 30 per cent of the overall grocery market, with sales increasing by up to 60 per cent. People in Scotland have embraced local. But we cannot take it for granted that they will stay there. We need strong and consistent messages about the importance of local and, crucially, we need to show people that local services, businesses, and agencies are responsive to their needs and have adapted to the post-Covid landscape.”

Andrew McRae, policy chair at FSB Scotland, believes the Scotland Loves Local is a timely reminder for people to show their support for the businesses around them. “There are so many fantastic independent firms on Scotland’s high streets and town centres,” he said


Sustrans Scotland is supporting efforts nationally to help people walk, wheel or cycle to work as part of the national recovery from the pandemic.

Communications Officer Ad Leeks said: “We’re partnering with local authorities throughout Scotland to deliver on the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People programme. Well under way, this programme is delivering sweeping temporary changes that will make it far easier and safer for people to get around their local areas.

  • For more details about Scotland Loves Local, go to and follow the hashtag #ScotlandLovesLocal on social media