THE deadline for towns across Scotland to bid for a share of £1 million to boost their local high street runs out tomorrow.
Communities have until 30 March to submit their application to become a “Portas Pilot” and receive funding from the UK Government under a new scheme launched by Mary Portas earlier this year.
The scheme has already sparked widespread interest from towns across the UK, with many already submitting their bids ahead of Friday’s deadline. However, the entire scheme risks being undermined through a lack of funding according to David McCorquodale, Head of Retail for KPMG in Scotland said:
“Mary Portas’ mission to rescue the British high street has struck a tone with retailers and communities across the country desperate to access the support they need to save their local high street. The sheer number of towns bidding for funding shows how widespread the problem is in the UK. No high street seems immune from the battle of survival.
“Portas has put the challenge of managing local conflicting agendas and rivalries squarely on the shoulders of the community. Exactly how the scheme will be measured is yet to be clarified. But in spirit this concept of local community teams working together to come up with innovative ways to improve the high street is exactly what is needed.
“However given the scale of the challenges facing the modern high street, a share of £1 million will hardly scratch the surface. Considering the huge task in hand, and Scotland’s far smaller share of the population, the prospect of a Scottish community’s selection looks remote.
“To give this pilot the best chance of success then the source and magnitude of proper funding must be considered and regional differences addressed. Without this, neither local communities in Scotland, nor in the rest of the UK, are going to be able to implement real change.
Since December, there has been a raft of high profile retail failures with big high street names calling in administrators. Blair Nimmo, Head of Restructuring for KPMG in Scotland said: “The culmination of persistently suppressed consumer spending, large rent bills and huge debt facilities has created a toxic cocktail and left many retailers struggling without any light at the end of the tunnel.
“After a challenging start to 2012, which has already seen established high street names such as Blacks, La Senza and Peacocks in difficulty, we have once again witnessed the traditional rent quarter date tip another struggling retailer into administration with the collapse of Game. Considering this most recent example, which saw the closure of 17 Scottish stores and the loss of nearly 140 jobs it would be naive to think Scotland’s businesses will not continue to find the climate challenging in 2012.
Some of the measures suggested in the Portas review will however sound familiar to Scottish retailers. Business Improvement Districts (BID’s) have been supported by the Scottish Government through Improvement Districts Scotland since 2004 while council-community high street projects such as ‘Start-up Street’ in Stirling and Retail Rocks! in Aberdeen are already in development. The Scottish Government are also currently undertaking a review of Scotland’s town centres which is set to be completed later this year, as part of their regeneration strategy.
David McCorquodale concluded: “Certainly the Portas review has raised the profile and understanding of the issue. However financial support to the tune of thousands of pounds is unlikely to help those retailers that are beyond redemption. Hopefully the Scottish Government’s National Review of Town Centres will go even further to invigorating the Scottish high street”