‘Tourist retail sector is left to rot’: Edinburgh’s Royal Mile retailers make urgent plea to Scottish Government and council
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In an open letter from traders they described the Royal Mile as ‘undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Scottish tourism’ but added that it is now a shadow of its former self and that urgent assistance is required to save the livelihoods of Scots who have put their hearts and souls into businesses that, on the Royal Mile alone, employs thousands of people whose jobs are imminently at risk.
As restrictions lift and staycations are on the cards for many Scots, tourism traders on the Royal Mile have still found themselves in a ‘dismal’ situation.
In the letter, traders said: “Landlords - of which the City of Edinburgh is the largest - justify huge commercial rents by the high footfall of international tourists but for the last 15 months has been virtually zero.
“This past weekend being a Bank Holiday and school holiday, a survey of 15 Royal Mile businesses reports an 80 to 90 per cent drop in takings as ‘staycationers from Scotland may well purchase food and beverage but do not purchase tourist gifts.’
“Landlords including the City of Edinburgh Council are demanding full rent be paid for the last six months although businesses were closed by government decree yet I have no doubt that if a council house tenant could not gain access to their council house for six months the council would not charge them rent.
“We as a group are fully aware that City of Edinburgh Council are also in a difficult financial position and appeal to them also to reach out to the Scottish Government and present a case for assistance for Royal Mile Traders who find themselves in a unique difficulty of losing the lifeblood of international tourists.”
Traders also claimed that dozens of emails have been sent to various MSPs, MPs, councillors and the Minister for Tourism, who received 23 emails from one trader, with most not responding, and the others ‘passed on’ to other departments.
The letter adds: “It seems our elected representatives abandoned us in our time of need. It will be some time before our industry returns to normal and government support is urgently needed and a plan for future support agreed. The Scottish government continually finds millions of pounds to support businesses and industries that have no hope of survival whilst the highly successful tourist retail sector is left to rot.”
One trader, John Thorburn, who owns family-run business Really Scottish has said that this is a plea for help, and much needed dialogue.
He said: “Things are dismaly quiet, we just wish someone would respond to us. Edinburgh is a city that thrives on international tourism and expensive rents are justified by high footfall, but that hasn’t been the case for the last 15 months.
“There are thousands employed on this street, we’ve made posters for outside our shops and we’re not anti-SNP, but they are the ones in government who aren’t helping us.
“I’m very anxious about the financial situation. The tourism industry in Edinburgh will return, but it will take some time.
“My business has been here for more than 20 years and like other businesses is very much a part of the Royal Mile, but we need some support for those people like us whose livelihoods and lives are here, as well as the future. We can’t be burdened with further debt.”
Council Leader, Adam McVey said: “It has been an extremely difficult time for every business across the city who have had to close their doors during lockdown and have worked extremely hard to curb the spread of the virus and protect customers. We’ve seen a fantastic amount of innovation of traders, taking their business offer online, developing takeaway offers for customers and diversifying their offer to keep going as circumstances have changed.
“Over past year, we have made over 19,000 payments of over £250m to businesses through grant funds provided by the Scottish Government to help businesses to stay afloat.
“Shops operating from Council units who approached us to seek assistance with their rents were offered up to 6-months rent free in financial year 2020/21 and we’ve approved the use of repayment plans for those tenants still seeking assistance for the second half of that financial year to be as flexible we can to help businesses recover.”
Depute Leader Cammy Day, said: “We continue to have ongoing discussions with Scottish Government around support for businesses in areas that remain in Level 2. And as we look ahead to the wider economic recovery of our Capital we’re actively developing plans through our Economic Development Strategy and our City Centre Recovery Plan to help drive momentum, generate footfall, development inspirational campaigns like Forever Edinburgh and help to deliver our world renowned Festivals. While also working on targeted support in conjunction with local areas, like our Shop Here This Year campaign and collaborating with business groups.”
The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.