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    Scottish budget offers little relief for high street, Bira warns

    (Photo: iStock)

    Independent retailers association Bira has warned that the recent Scottish budget has provided little to no help for the high street and has “failed” traders.

    The association, which works with over 6,000 independent businesses of all sizes across the UK, said the recent budget, set out by deputy first minister Shona Robison this week, had let them down.

    “Once again, the Scottish government has failed to create a level playing field for retailers in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK,” Andrew Goodacre, Bira chief executive, said.

    “By not introducing the retail discount that we have in England and Wales, it is now much more expensive to have a retail shop in Scotland. This makes it harder for these small businesses to compete with the online giants, for whom the cost is the same no matter where they are selling.”

    Traders in Scotland said they agreed.

    Karen Forret, managing director of Wilkies, a fashion, footwear, and cook shop based across six locations in Scotland, said they were disappointed with the budget and feared for the future.

    “Two years on, and still no support for Scottish retailers. We don’t understand why the Scottish government does not want to help save our high streets and everything they contribute to Scotland’s economy,” she said.

    “At the Autumn Statement on November 17, 2022, the chancellor announced the introduction of a new business rates relief scheme for retail, hospitality, and leisure properties. We waited, but this financial support was not passed on to businesses in Scotland despite money being given to the Scottish government through Barnett Consequentials.

    “In Westminster’s budget at the end of November 2023, this support was extended for English retailers. The 2023/24 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Rates Relief scheme will provide eligible, occupied, retail, hospitality, and leisure properties with a 75 per cent relief, up to a cash cap limit of £110,000 per business.

    “Scottish businesses need the same support. As we all waited for the support to be replicated in the Scottish Government’s budget yesterday, December 19, 2023, they have failed again to support our high streets despite being given the money from Westminster.

    She added: “The Scottish government is spending over £122 million investing in towns and high streets needing regeneration as part of the leveling-up funding, which is great – but there is no point if the vast majority of units are lying vacant.

    “As a business, we had to make the very difficult decision this year to close five out of 11 of our stores. We had already closed three stores post-pandemic. At the time, we seriously considered whether it was worth saving the six that we have kept open, but we believe our high streets and the jobs we have taken forward were worth saving! It is such a punch in the face for Scottish businesses investing in our high streets not to have been given the support they deserve.”

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