‘Toxic cocktail’ of rates and regulation behind job losses, retail chiefs say

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Retail chiefs have blamed a “toxic cocktail” of growing rates and regulation from the Scottish Government for the loss of 6,400 jobs in the industry in just one year.

Official figures from the Scottish Government showed the number of people employed in the key sector shrank from 250,300 in 2014 to 243,900 in 2015.

The latest fall means the number of people employed in retailing was 16,400 lower than it was in 2008, according to the Scottish Annual Business Statistics.

The data also showed 187 fewer retail units in 2015 than there had been the previous year, with the total dropping to 22,425 – with the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) stating, as a result, there were 1,831 fewer stores than there had been in 2008.

SRC director David Lonsdale said declining numbers of shops and workers “must act as a wake-up call” to ministers.

He stated: “These latest figures graphically highlight the impact of the toxic cocktail of burgeoning tax and regulatory costs and transformational change in the retail industry.

“Sadly, our warnings about the impact of rising government-imposed costs on an industry in profound transition are being borne out, with fewer jobs and fewer retail stores.”

The industry body is demanding the Scottish Government act in next year’s budget, with the group restating calls for the additional levy paid by larger stores north of the border to be scrapped.

Mr Lonsdale also called for a moratorium on any new business rates charges in Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s proposals for 2018-19.

The SRC director said: ” Earlier this week we laid out a number of actions the Scottish Government should bring forward in its upcoming budget to encourage investment by retailers in stores and distribution centres, in particular restoring parity with England on the large business rates supplement.”

He criticised the “self-defeating Scotland-only rates surcharge”, saying it cost retailers £12 million a year, with some 5,100 stores across Scotland affected.

Retailers are “keen to see a clear and early timetable” for its abolition, Mr Lonsdale said.

He continued: “We also want to see a moratorium on any new or additional business rates levies, together with clarity over how employers who currently pay the apprenticeship levy in Scotland will be able to access the proposed flexible workforce development fund to offset their training expenditure.

“If we fluff this opportunity to bear down on the costs of doing business, then we risk failing to stem let alone reverse the decline in retail jobs and shops, especially in our more economically-fragile communities.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These figures are from 2015.

“The Scottish Government is doing everything within our powers to support our economy and have committed to around £660 million of business rates relief this year, which includes lifting 100,000 business premises out of rates altogether.

“We will respond swiftly to the Barclay review of business rates.”