Let’s hope Kate can get stuff done, but don’t hold your breath - Kevin Buckle

Deputy First Minister Kate ForbesDeputy First Minister Kate Forbes
Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes
The new deputy first minister Kate Forbes now responsible for Scotland’s economy was very keen to say she was going to “get stuff done” and get the economy “firing on all cylinders”.

But while making positive noises about the strength of businesses in Scotland and saying that its “backbone” was starting and growing small businesses, she didn’t actually say how any of this was going to happen.

She also unsurprisingly ignored non-domestic rates, better known as business rates, over which she will have control and are a major hurdle for businesses at every level.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but if anything the issue has got worse and you only have to look at the state of Princes Street to realise there is a problem when, no matter how good a deal landlords are prepared to offer, the rates will not be reduced, even though the rates are in theory meant to be in relation to the market rent.

In the old days the council would pretend they were providing essential services such as rubbish collection to businesses in return for the rates being paid. But these days businesses are responsible for their rubbish and when I looked up the definition of business rates it was a very straightforward one – a property tax which helps pay for local council services.

This is really all you need to know. Councils already don’t have enough money to provide all the services they need to, so the only way to finance a drop in non-domestic rates is to increase domestic rates, which would be something I’m sure all sides would find unacceptable.

It is now a very different story with London’s Oxford Street, which for years was plagued with American Candy and dodgy tourist shops, but now, if all the publicity is to be believed, is showing something of a resurgence.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A whole rack of measures did include addressing the rates but I can’t see that happening in Scotland.

It would appear things are getting better but it is also clear there is a well organised campaign to give that impression. On the other hand Princess Street languishes in a state that nobody would ever have predicted with the overall impression being of tartan tat shops, American Candy shops and homeless people camping outside empty shops.

The opening of Uniqlo, the Japanese fashion house, was indeed a big step forward, but such is the extent of the mess on Princes Street that even such a high profile and welcome event made little impact on the overall situation.

There also seems to be no marketing campaign to convince people that the current state of Princes Street is merely a blip that is being dealt with, unlike that which has seen relentless good news stories about the resurgence of Oxford Street in the media recently.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Partly I think this is because nobody wants to acknowledge that anything is wrong in the first place.

Both the reopening of the St James Quarter and the opening of the Johnnie Walker building at either ends of Princes Street were heralded as major steps forward when actually the St James caused more trouble than it solved, while Johnnie Walker flies under most visitor’s radar.

Retail businesses in particular will be keen to see what stuff Kate Forbes gets done.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.