WALK around the high streets of many towns around Scotland and the signs of decline are clear to see.

Empty shop units have been a common sight for many years owing to factors such as the rise of online shopping and out-of-town retail parks.

Now, following long spells of lockdown, the shift from office to home working (which has belatedly begun to reverse), and spiralling costs over the last year, the challenges appear to be even more acute.

Plenty of thoughtful ideas have emerged in recent years from policy experts on how the decline of the high street be reversed in the long term. In the short term, retailer Karen Forret believes there is a simple measure the Scottish Government could take to ease the pressure straight away.

Ms Forret, who owns the independent Wilkies clothing chain, has highlighted the “huge” difference between the amount charged for business rates at her store in North Berwick compared with her shop just across the Border in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Because retailers in England are currently entitled to a 75 per cent discount on rates, the bill for North Berwick is £7,390 higher than the one for Berwick-upon-Tweed. The two stores have the same rateable value.

Ms Forret said the difference owing to the discount in England is “huge” and said the Scottish Government would provide a massive boost to Scottish high streets if it offered a similar subsidy north of the Border.

She acknowledged that local authorities, which collect revenue from business rates, are under pressure financially and can understand why they want the rates income now. But by offering a discount in the short term, Ms Forret argues that councils will effectively ensure more income from rates is generated in future, as more businesses will have been able to survive.

It is a compelling argument, particularly given the massive rise in costs businesses have faced in recent years, and may help more retailers retain a presence on the high street.

The Scottish Government, however, argues that it already provides generous support over business rates. Although it has no plans to introduce further relief this year, it said its relief package will be worth around £744 million to businesses in 2023/24.