Scotland Top As Shopper Numbers Up

Scotland saw a bigger rise in the number of shoppers hitting high streets and shopping centres than anywhere else in the UK last month, new figures show.

Shopper numbers were 2% higher in September than a year ago and up on the 1.8% rise noted the previous month.

The figures, contained in a report which tracks shopper numbers on the high street and out-of-town shopping centres in 142 towns and cities across the UK, reveal that Scotland recorded the highest footfall figures of all the regions.

The overall UK figure showed a 0.9% decline on a year ago, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Springboard monitor.

Northern Ireland and the south east of England were the only others which saw a rise in shopper numbers at 0.2% and 1.4% respectively.

David Martin, SRC head of policy and external affairs, said: "Following on from a strong set of results in August; shoppers continued to hit Scottish high streets and out-of-town shopping destinations in even greater numbers throughout September. Scotland recorded the highest footfall figures of any area of the UK, with out of town retail the standout performer.

''Over the last six months, footfall has increased in all but one of those months. This is an encouraging sign that the improvements we have see in both consumer confidence and the wider economy is feeding through to more consumers in store.

''As retailers are undoubtedly playing their part in this, with almost unprecedented levels of competition keeping prices down and maximising choice, so can the Scottish Government by securing the right business environment in which retailers can flourish.

"One need only look at the state of our high streets and town centres to see the impact an out-dated and broken system of business rates is having. Fundamental reform of this tax would stimulate investment, drive greater consumer choice and sustain the recovery.''

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said the rise in Scotland was "postive'' in the face of a decline across the UK.

"High streets and out of town locations are the clear winners, whilst shopping centres - which are dominated by fashion retailers - suffered from the unusually warm weather in September and the concomitant impact on fashion sales.

''Whilst out-of-town locations still recorded a positive result in September - reflecting the positive sales in furniture and household goods - the fact that the increase in footfall is by far the most modest of any month in 2014 suggests this channel has felt the impact of the poor performance in fashion - a strong indicator that their success now also hinges on this sector.''

Minister for Local Government and Planning Derek Mackay said: "Now more than ever we need to bring diversification to our town centres. Local authorities, the business community and public and third sector organisations need to work together with the Scottish Government to bring real change to our towns - change which includes improvements to more than just shops on our high streets.''

He said the Scottish Government launched a Town Centre Action Plan last year which introduces initiatives to "diversify and invigorate'' town centres.

"Official statistics show that 63% of all retail premises in Scotland currently pay zero or substantially reduced business rates as part of a total relief package worth an estimated £617 million next year. As part of this, more than 92,000 premises have benefited from our Small Business Bonus Scheme in the last year - and the scheme has been expanded to benefit thousands more smaller firms.

"However, we cannot do this alone and I am urging private, public and community sector organisations who have a vested interest in our towns, to work in partnership with the Scottish Government to breathe new life into town centres,'' he added.

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