Colin Smyth MSP
Colin Smyth MSP

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth welcomed fellow members of the Economy and Fair Work Committee to Dumfries on Monday as part of an inquiry into the future of Scotland’s town centres.

The Parliamentary Committee is looking to identify the current challenges for high streets, and the barriers to their success, and to explore the extent to which an increasing use of ecommerce is impacting on Scotland’s town centres.  It aims to propose action needed to support modern and thriving town centres.

Committee members took part in a walking tour of the town centre led by a representative of the Midsteeple Quarter, then took part in a roundtable discussion over lunch with local businesses and stakeholders, followed by a visit to some of the buildings being developed by the Midsteeple Quarter and to local businesses.

Colin Smyth said: “Scotland’s town centres have traditionally been the heartbeat of our communities bringing people together to live, work, shop and socialise.

“However, traditional town centres are under pressure and under threat, with too many shops closing and too many high streets dominated by ‘to let’ signs.

“Changing retail trends, including the growth in ecommerce and the expansion of retail park alternatives, combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to create a difficult trading environment.”

He continued: “It was great to be able to welcome committee members to my home town and to show off the fantastic work of the Midsteeple Quarter in 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.”

The Committee’s inquiry has three areas of focus:

• Keeping town centres alive – including how they have changed over recent years, their strengths and weaknesses, and who or what can drive positive change in Scottish town centres.

• The new realities of Scottish retail – including how this sector has evolved over the last decade, the impact of these changes on town centres and what role fiscal policy levers should have in supporting this sector.

• Ecommerce in Scotland – including the implications for businesses of increased online shopping and digital activity, and the role of Scottish SMEs in the ecommerce sector.

Colin Smyth said: “Our inquiry is seeking to bring forward recommendations to demonstrate how Scotland’s town centres can thrive in this post pandemic world, and be vibrant, resilient and accessible places which meet the economic, social and environmental needs of our communities.”

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