Colin Smyth MSP
Colin Smyth MSP

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development and Rural Affairs, Colin Smyth has called on the Scottish Government to implement a rescue plan for town centres, during a Scottish Parliament debate on Scotland’s economic recovery.

The local MSP praised the work of the Midsteeple Quarter for helping to breathe new life into Dumfries town centre and urged the Scottish Government to consider providing everyone with a £75 high street voucher to provide a spending boost for town centre shops. He also called on the Government to reform business rates to cut the tax bill for “bricks-and-mortar shops”, funded by increased business rates on warehouses used by online traders such as Amazon, to deliver a level playing field for town centre shops.

Speaking in the debate, Colin Smyth said: “Although not a single part of the country—urban or rural—has not felt the economic impact of the pandemic, we know that the structure of Scotland’s rural economy amplifies the economic effects of Covid.

“Jobs in rural communities are often disproportionately reliant on tourism and hospitality, on self-employment and on the small businesses and microbusinesses that [are] the backbone of so many of our communities.

“Those sectors, which are so important to communities and livelihoods across rural Scotland, have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

“In the short term, we need an immediate fiscal stimulus package to encourage people back safely into our shops, and to prevent lockdown behaviours from embedding permanently. That is why Labour has proposed a plan for a high street voucher scheme. I strongly urge the Government to deliver that plan.

“Equally, we need to tackle the longer-term underlying problems and provide a more level playing field for bricks-and-mortar shops in relation to online retailers by properly reforming business rates and providing digital training for small and medium-sized businesses. Planning to regenerate and revitalise town centres and investing in new ways to bring people back on to our high streets will be key.

“I will briefly highlight one example of how to breathe new life into our town centres, which can be seen in the work of Midsteeple Quarter in the town of Dumfries. It is a community benefit company that anyone can join and it is literally taking back the High Street shop by shop.

“It is beginning to invest in the mix of uses that our town centres need—retail, community space and housing—and, crucially, it is responding to the needs of the community. The co-operative principle is that local people have the innovative solutions for their town and should have a local stake in its future through community ownership.”

Speaking after the debate, Colin Smyth added: “Sadly, the past year has had a huge impact on our already struggling high streets. So many shops have gone out of business at a national level and closed stores locally.

“We need action and that’s why I raised the fantastic work of Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries.”


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