Scottish election 2021: Nicola Sturgeon pledges cash for Scotland's high streets in Covid recovery

The SNP has pledged to help Scotland’s high streets, with a promise of cash being spent to encourage Scots to shop locally and support retail businesses that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 2:26 pm

The SNP announced if it wins the next Scottish Parliament election it will spend £275 million over the next five years on community regeneration and to help revitalise town centres.

SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also promised there would be £10m for the Scotland Loves Local campaign, to encourage people to shop in their own area wherever they can.

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A deserted Princes Street in Edinburgh. Picture: Richard Nicholls

The commitments come after the Scottish Government extended the 100 per cent rates rebate given to key sectors hardest hit by coronavirus – including retail and hospitality – for 2021/22 at a cost of £719m.

Ms Sturgeon thanked businesses – many of whom have been forced to close their doors during the pandemic for the “sacrifices they have made to help get the virus under control over the last 12 months”.

She said: “Revitalising our town centres and communities was already a priority of the SNP Government before the pandemic struck, but that agenda is now essential.”

The First Minister stated: “In government, the SNP has already gone further than the UK Government by extending 100 per cent rates relief for the hardest-hit sectors for a full 12 months.

“And if re-elected, we will take forward plans to spend £275m over the life of the parliament to support community-led regeneration and town centre revitalisation – as well as supporting the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods.”

She said this would be a “significant government investment”, but that everyone could play their part in helping their local high street.

Ms Sturgeon added: “All of us can help our communities, and protect and create local jobs, by spending locally when we can, and we’ll build on our Scotland Loves Local campaign to highlight the many benefits of doing so.”

With some 230,000 people employed directly in Scotland’s retail sector industry leaders stressed the next Scottish Government must give the industry “breathing space” to recover from the pandemic, without imposing any further “red tape”.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said ministers must put “business rates on an affordable and sustainable footing, rather than revert to pre-Covid levels which saw business rates levied at a 21-year high”.

He added: “The business rate has risen by one fifth since the start of the last decade. We need a firm timeline for lowering it.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said just 1 per cent of the proposed cash was a new announcement, with both the rates relief and town centre revitalisation funding having been previously announced as Scottish Government policy.

She said: “Scotland’s businesses and high streets have been devastated by coronavirus, but all the SNP is willing to offer them next term is a measly £10 million extra.

“Businesses are struggling, with many having received little or no support during the pandemic, and this pitiful offering falls well short of what is needed.”

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “Under Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals, we will reform business rates to take the burden off high street retailers and give those shops the ability to compete with online retailers.”