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Scotland’s retail footfall growth ‘worst in UK compared to pre-pandemic levels’

Retail in Scotland is struggling to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, statistics reveal (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Retail in Scotland is struggling to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, statistics reveal (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scotland’s shopper footfall growth has been ranked the worst in the UK compared with pre-pandemic levels, statistics show.

Data from the Scottish Retail Consortium and Sensormatics’ footfall monitor found that retail is struggling to bounce back from the pandemic.

Covering the May period, Scottish footfall decreased by 16.4% compared with 2019 levels.

And while footfall across the UK has worsened from pre-pandemic levels, Scotland’s score is worse than the UK average decline of 12.5%.

However there are signs of improvement in shopping centre footfall, with a 19.7% decline noted in May, compared with 2019. This is an increase on the 20% decline in April.

David Lonsdale, director at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said that on top of the pandemic’s impact on retail, ScotRail cancellations and the cost-of-living crisis are likely to be responsible for the lack of shoppers.

He said: “Scotland’s fitful footfall slipped back in May compared to the same period prior to the pandemic.

“This left Scotland languishing at the bottom of the UK league table for visits to stores, and still well below the same period prior to the onset of Covid.

“The figures weakened during the latter part of the month, perhaps derailed somewhat by the train drivers’ dispute.

“However the performance wasn’t uniform across all retail destinations. Visits to shopping centres improved slightly and for a fourth consecutive month, whilst in Glasgow it remained on par with the month before which was the joint best performance so far this calendar year.

“Hopefully, this dip in foot-traffic will prove temporary although concerns over the economic outlook, rising cost of living and continued absence of some commuters remain.

“Meanwhile, there remains a question mark over the government’s mooted return to city centres visitor campaign and the cash disbursed to local councils recently to aid city centre recovery and whether they are having much impact on generating the footfall that is so urgently needed.”

According to the growth table, Scotland’s growth ranks bottom compared with the rest of the UK, while north-west England noted the lowest decline, of 8.2%.

In May, footfall in Glasgow decreased by 11.6% compared with pre-pandemic levels, and remains unchanged from April.

It is fourth overall in the UK, compared with UK cities, with Leeds ranking bottom with a 19% decline and Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham outranking Scotland’s largest city.

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “Total Scottish retail footfall slipped back slightly this May against pre-pandemic levels.

“With households already starting to feel the pinch of the rising cost of living and growing inflationary pressures, retailers are already seeing the impact it can have on footfall recovery.

“As they look ahead to June, retailers will be hoping that high streets will be rallied by the jubilee weekend celebrations and that the event will prompt ambient shopper traffic and retail spend.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our new retail strategy sets out how we will work with businesses and trade unions to deliver a strong, prosperous and vibrant retail sector, and contains specific actions to strengthen retail’s contribution to the economic and social success of our local communities.

“The Scottish Government is committed to helping business recovery and has provided more than £4.7 billion in support since the beginning of the pandemic, including around £1.6 billion in rates relief which includes a continuation of 50% retail, hospitality, and leisure rates relief for the first three months of 2022-23, capped at £27,500 per ratepayer.

“This is in addition to the action we are taking to support the continued safe return to our town and city centres, and help retailers and communities recover – not least through our £80 million Covid Economic Recovery Fund, our £6 million City Centre Recovery Fund, and the recently published Town Centre Action Plan.

“However, the biggest threat to retail recovery and consumers having income to spend is the cost-of-living crisis and we will continue to press UK Government to do more to support people and businesses during what are very tough times, exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and the pandemic.”