By Bruce Crawford MSP
First printed in the Stirling Observer, 27th June 2018.
There is no doubt that we live in very challenging economic times, and no dispute whatsoever that the greatest challenges have yet to come if, in eight months’ time, we leave the European Union.
The high street in Stirling, like high streets across the UK, is facing specific challenges of its own. With more people changing their shopping habits and the ever increasing number of online customers, we are seeing a decreased footfall on our high streets – which is having a severe impact on small local businesses.
Like many other local people, I have been deeply saddened by a number of recent closures of high street shops and other businesses in Stirling city centre. My heart goes out to those who have lost their jobs through such closures.
The Scottish Government is doing what it can during such a challenging time. One measure is through the Small Business Bonus Scheme – which has lifted over 2,800 businesses in the Stirling area out of paying Business Rates entirely.
This has put over £85 million back into the Stirling economy – undoubtedly a shot in the arm for local jobs and growth.
Nevertheless, the change in attitudes about how we shop comes at a time when there is also less money in our pockets.
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that the UK vote for Brexit has already cost the average household the equivalent of £900 a year in income – and that’s before we’ve even left the EU. This is a major dent in the spending abilities of consumers and is clearly already having a massive impact on our local and national economy.
The Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal, with £50 million from the Scottish Government and £40 million from the UK Government, to benefit the local economy will bring about a major boost to business in the area. However, in my opinion, this is a time when high street businesses need to consider how they fit into this environment of great challenges and major changes. It’s a time for the high street to be redefined with a new purpose.
Last week saw much discussion about how Tory UK Government is handling Brexit, threatening the power of our Scottish Parliament – and no doubt these discussions will continue over coming months. However, the damaging effect that a no-deal scenario would have also remains at the forefront of the concerns of people across the Stirling area.
Across the country, we are seeing laid bare the impact that a no-deal with the EU post-Brexit scenario would have on business. At the end of last week, Airbus announced that a no-deal scenario would mean it would have to pull out of the UK. This is a company that employs over 14,000 workers across the UK and are a serious contributor to the aerospace industry.
Far from the only major employer to offer warnings about the damaging effect of a no-deal, but Airbus is the latest in a series of businesses to speak out in the midst of this Brexit saga. It’s time that the Tories sat up and paid attention.
Last week, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on how support for the agricultural sector in Scotland will continue immediately after Brexit. Currently, Scottish rural businesses receive around £650 million a year in CAP payments from the EU.
Leaving the EU will, therefore, create a void in how this is handled and it’s important that we do what we can to offer support to our local farmers – through funding via the Scottish Rural Development Fund.