South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth has said that both the UK and Scottish Governments and the local council should urgently act on the the findings of a new report which reveals the extent of bank branch, shop and local business closures on our High Streets since the start of 2016.
The “Transforming Towns: Delivering a Sustainable Future for Local Place,” published by the Federation of Small Businesses reveals that 10% of High Street properties in Dumfries and Galloway remains vacant.
Colin Smyth believes that two of the ideas in the report would help towns centres across Dumfries and Galloway. The Report suggests that there should be long term investment in town centres to improve access and infrastructure and to carry out wider improvements to Town Centres. The Report also suggests smart solutions should be employed for empty retail units, a number of these have already been used from time to time across the region but the creation of co-working spaces and creating spaces for events and exhibitions is a new opportunity for Town Centres.
The Report also highlights the need for improved technology on our High Streets. Colin Smyth recently met with Brendan Dick, Chair of Openreach Scotland, to raise the concerns of local businesses in many of our Town Centres who are still unable to get access to super-fast broadband despite being in the commercial heart of a town, including large parts of Dumfries town centre.
Colin Smyth said, “This Report lays bare the high number of empty premises on our town centres across the region. Both the UK and Scottish Governments and the local council should act on the findings of this Report. While funds have been made available through a national Town Centre Fund this was a one off fund with a time limit on projects coming forward. This Report suggests a long term fund should be put in place, which would allow groups within Town Centres across Dumfries and Galloway to make bids for Town Centre improvements over a long term period.
There are a number of excellent local initiatives such as the Council’s Town Centre Living Fund which is creating create new opportunities for people to live in properties previously empty in our Town Centres. But this work needs to be accelerated because encouraging more people to live in our town centres is key to making them more buoyant. One way to help achieve this in Dumfries is Government and Council funding in the Midsteeple Project to bring empty properties on Dumfries High Street back into use”
Governments and the council should also work together to find opportunities to support small business to co-locate facilities and benefit from improved digital connectivity. Moffat is identified in the report for the high number of self-employed people living in the Town. This highlights how attractive our region can be to do business but we need to support those businesses to grow.
The Report also suggests that Shared Banking Hubs should be rolled out due to the number of bank branch closures. Banking Hubs where more than one bank comes together to share resources and costs would ensure that access to cash is maintained in the many towns and villages affected by branch closures.
Colin Smyth added, “I have been trying to encourage banks and building societies to seriously consider proposals for bank hubs. A number of our larger towns such as Gretna have been left without a bank branch which is a major loss to local residents and businesses. Hubs could also host other services. We recently saw the closure of the Post Office in Langholm and that has been saved by moving the services into the Council offices and shared facilities will increasingly be the way to preserve many of our services”.