David Birrell: Capital’s retail sector is growing

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The Christmas period is always a crucial part of the retail calendar. It is the point at which many high street vendors expect to do the bulk of their business, swiftly followed, of course, by the traditional Boxing Day or January sales.

The contribution the wider retail sector makes to the attractiveness and effectiveness of our Capital is critical. Key to this success are business enablers including property, transport, digital and talent.

You would be forgiven for thinking that all Christmas shopping now takes place online and the traditional stores are virtually empty if you read all the negative reports. In our Capital, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Edinburgh is well above the UK average for both footfall and retail turnover figures and while online certainly plays an important role in the retail mix, bricks and mortar are still very much in vogue.

This confidence and availability of resource has led to resurgence in our retail offer and continued investment from key retail brands. Nothing demonstrates this more than the £850 million redevelopment of the St James Centre and we must ensure that investment continues right across the city, including our out-of-town shopping centres.

Effective transport links are already attracting more shoppers and the investment in transport infrastructure improving Edinburgh’s connectivity must continue as demonstrated by the benefits of the new tram line. More than six million passengers used the tram service in its first year and the festive period saw the number of vehicles using the park and ride facility at Ingliston more than double the previous year’s figure to over 10,000.

The retail sector is a key provider of jobs. Developing our capability to meet the customer needs of an international city is essential and we continue to benefit from partnerships between education and retail resulting in a richer source of talent.

At Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, we are launching our Inspiring Retail group. Its key priorities will be to support the development of a world class shopping experience in our Capital and across the region. This includes consultation with other cities across the UK on how the key business enablers supported their retail sector.

As we look forward to an exciting 2015 in Edinburgh, we must ensure our retail sector priorities are embedded in our long-term strategic priorities as a Capital.

David Birrell is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce