Finance

Pandemic has cost Scottish cities 'more than half a year's worth' of high street sales



Covid-19 has cost city centres in Scotland more than half a year’s worth of potential takings since March 2020.

This is according to Cities Outlook 2022 – Centre for Cities’ annual economic assessment of the UK’s largest urban areas.

Central Edinburgh is worst affected, losing 43 weeks of sales between the first lockdown and Omicron’s onset.

Businesses in Glasgow and Aberdeen city centres are also hard hit.

Dundee’s city centre lost the fewest weeks of sales (32 weeks) in Scotland during the pandemic.

Where have city centre businesses lost the most potential sales during the pandemic?

Rank (Scotland)

Rank (GB – out of 62)

Place

Weeks of lost sales

1

3

Edinburgh

-43

2

5

Glasgow

-42

3

13

Aberdeen

-39

4

22

Dundee

-32

Across the UK, Covid-19 has cost businesses in city and large town centres more than a third (35%) of their potential takings since March 2020, with central London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff worst affected.

Across the 52 city and town centres studied, 2426 commercial units have become vacant during the pandemic, against 1374 between 2018 and 2020.

High streets in economically weaker places have been less impacted by Covid-19. Meanwhile in economically stronger places, business closures increased during the pandemic.

The report stated that this suggests that the UK Government’s Covid-19 support successfully stalled the decline of many struggling high streets but was less effective in economically stronger places due to higher rents and a lack of custom from office workers.

However, while stronger city centres have borne the economic brunt of the pandemic, their higher levels of affluence mean that, if restrictions end and office workers return, they will likely recover quickly.

Where have city centre vacancy rates changed the most during the pandemic?

Rank (Scotland)

Rank (National – out of 52)

Place

Percentage point change

1

8

Aberdeen

5.6

2

13

Dundee

4.8

3

14

Glasgow

4.7

4

35

Edinburgh

2.3

Meanwhile, while government support has sheltered weaker places, it may have simply stored up pain for the future. The report warned that many less prosperous places in Scotland face a wave of new business closures this year.

Where had the highest and lowest shares of vacant city centre units after June 2021

Rank (Scotland)

Rank (GB – out of 52)

Place

Percentage of city centre units vacant

1

15

Dundee

22.6

2

23

Aberdeen

19.9

3

27

Glasgow

18.7

4

51

Edinburgh

10.1

To avoid permanently levelling down prosperous places, Centre for Cities said that policy makers should run campaigns to encourage leisure visitors back when safe to do so and provide part-time season tickets to encourage workers back to the office.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “While the pandemic has been a tough time for all high streets it has levelled down more prosperous cities and towns in Scotland.

“The bigger concern is for economically weaker places, where Covid-19 has actually paused their long-term decline.

“To help them avoid a wave of high street closures this year the Government must set out how it plans to increase peoples’ skills and pay to give them the income needed to sustain a thriving high street.”

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