Edinburgh shops: Business chiefs warn ‘unaffordable’ rents are biggest threat to city-centre recovery

Business chiefs have called for reforms of ‘unaffordable’ city-centre business rates to help traders get back on their feet and fill empty shops in the capital.

By Jolene Campbell
Monday, 30th May 2022, 4:55 am

Essential Edinburgh said retailers are still feeling the squeeze post-pandemic while facing a series of problems – consumer spending hit by cost of living crisis, competition from online traders and more people driving to out-of-town shops where parking is free.

Town centre managers cited current business rates as one of the biggest threats to city-centre recovery and investment in a recent survey, out this week.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said city centre businesses are disadvantaged by premium rents and has called for a ‘long term solution’ on rates which can see some retailers pay millions every year.

Essential Edinburgh wants to see fair rents and rates for city-centre businesses

From micro-businesses to large retailers, companies are forced to pay rates linked to the size and location of property, which Essential Edinburgh has branded ‘outdated’.

Large retailers are also subject to the Higher Property supplement which means bills for these businesses run to millions of pounds per year.

Bosses are calling for local rates relief to make it affordable for independents and ‘new uses’ to come in and fill empty-lets.

Mr Smith said: “One of the biggest issues that needs addressed is the huge business rates payable to the Government for city centre businesses.”

"No one objects to paying business rates but there are objections to the disparity of the sums paid in Edinburgh city centre compared to out of town retail parks and town centres.

“We need to make our city centre an attractive place to invest and trade in. Local rates relief policies can allow this. We need fairness. Footfall levels have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, our tourist numbers are recovering slowly but still are way down, yet core overheads like rates stay the same.

“Campaigns supporting people to shop near their homes have been prioritised. Major city centres are different and need to be treated equitably, not disadvantaged.”

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Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said: “Many businesses have had to shut up shop because they can’t afford to pay the rates for their premises.

“Higher business rates mean that shops and restaurants have to up their prices, so customers are being hit financially by these high business rates.

“The new Edinburgh council administration is in a position to review business rates, so as to better support businesses in the city.

“Many businesses on the high street are still recovering from two years in and out of lockdown and business rate relief would make a big difference in helping them get back on their feet.”

Council leader Cammy Day, said: “Any reform to the business rates is a matter for the Scottish Government but I would be happy to meet with both local businesses and the Government to see what changes and other avenues of support are available. We will strongly advocate reform to support city and town centre businesses, who are competing with the out of town and online offer. As a council we’ve been doing everything in our power to keep Edinburgh thriving since the pandemic by supporting people back into our city centre, both through our Forever Edinburgh campaigns and financial grants to businesses hard hit by restrictions."