Number of shop vacancies in Scotland drops slightly while malls continue to flourish

The number of empty shops in Scotland has decreased in a “slender” but welcome improvement, retail experts have said.

According to figures released by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) on Friday, the overall vacancy rate on Scotland’s high streets decreased from 15.8% in the first quarter of 2022 to 15.7% in the second – 0.4% lower than in the same quarter last year.

Vacancies in shopping centres increased to 20.3% from 20.2% earlier this year as footfall remained low due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the high street, vacancies decreased to 14.7% from 14.8% in the first quarter of the year.

Retail park vacancies saw the largest drop in vacancies from 12% in the first quarter of the year to 11.3% in the second and remains the location with the lowest rate of vacancies.

This year has been the first full trading period since 2019 where retailers have been able to remove all remaining Covid restrictions, providing a much-needed boost to businesses’ turnover.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “Encouragingly, this was the third successive quarterly improvement in the vacancy rate with destinations such as high streets and retail parks seeing the number of empty units nudge down.

“By contrast, vacancies in shopping centres edged up a smidgeon further.”

In April, one in six shops in Scotland was lying empty

Scotland’s vacancy rate remains above that for the rest of the UK as a whole and “well above” pre-pandemic levels, Mr Lonsdale added, with flagging footfall and continued hybrid working making it trickier for rates to recover.

He added: “A cocktail of cost pressures emanating from the supply chain, commodity prices, and taxation are serving to make life difficult for retailers.

“The prospect mooted in the Scottish Spending Review of a further increase in the business rate, already at a 23-year high, is ominous for retail and other sectors with a significant property footprint.

“A further rates hike next spring would come immediately following revaluation, when it normally drops, and would be difficult for stores to absorb.”

“A shift in mindset is needed on business rates, with a switch from trying to squeeze tax revenues from commercial properties to one which encourages investment into retail destinations.”