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A Retail Strategy for Scotland


On the 24th March, the Scottish Government unveiled its long-awaited Retail Strategy for Scotland. The Strategy can be found here and the Ministerial statement from Tom Arthur MSP can be found here.

Getting the Right Change: A Retail Strategy for Scotland outlines how the Scottish Government, business leaders and trade unions can work together to unlock opportunities to grow businesses and the economy, improve wellbeing and address inequality, and support progress towards our ambitious climate change targets.

Actions outlined include:

  • developing and promoting a Fair Work Agreement that retailers can voluntarily sign up to, to improve fair work conditions across the sector and contribute to reduction of in-work poverty
  • working with Skills Development Scotland and other partners on a Skills Audit and Action Plan, to support retail reskilling or upskilling as jobs change, for example due to technology like self-scan checkouts and online ordering systems
  • developing a Just Transition Plan for Retail to protect jobs and contribute to net zero emissions by 2045 through developing local supply chains, reuse of materials and sustainable travel choices by staff and customers
  • promoting town and city centres and local businesses while supporting ways to repurpose vacant retail units
  • harnessing opportunities in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation that will directly support the retail sector, like actions to grow businesses, boost productivity and support entrepreneurship

A new Industry Leadership Group will be established to drive delivery of the retail strategy, co-chaired by Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur.

I should disclose at this point that I was a member of the Ministerial group that advised on the development of the strategy and that during its development I took a lead in discussions about the Place section (especially given my work on A New Future for Scotland’s Towns). As with all such endeavours there are issues that I argued strongly for inclusion in the final strategy and some that failed to be accepted by the wider group and did not make it into the final document in the form I would perhaps have suggested. This is the nature of such things. Overall though there is much to be positive about in the strategy.

When I started out as an academic in retailing over 40 years ago, one of the things that was commonly noted was that retailing was seen as a “Cinderella” sector. Its very ubiquity, in that most people shop, suggested that it was somehow a simple business and not worthy of academic study (nor of much government attention). It has taken a while but the fact that the Scottish Government has developed its thinking on retailing and this Retail Strategy is a very welcome and important step forward. Retailing is a large, diverse and highly important sector in terms of economic and social activity, the businesses, organisations and jobs its contains and represents and the opportunities it provides for individuals, entrepreneurs and various minority groups. This recognition is long overdue.

The Retail Strategy itself comprises four sections – Sector, People, Place and Just Transition. The vision it sets out is for a successful, resilient, sustainable and profitable sector. The focus of the strategy is on the establishment of an Industry Leadership Group which will have responsibility for rapidly undertaking a skills audit and action plan, based around the needs of the changing sector and a focus on implementing a Fair Work Agreement, and on the development of a Just Transition Plan for retailing as the sector comes to terms with the climate emergency.

Vision, Prioity Areas, Aims and Delivery of the Retail Strategy

These initial elements will see the Retail Strategy take into account recent other reports from Scottish Government to develop a linked and aligned approach. There will need therefore to be a focus on the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, the outcome of the National Planning Framework consultation, the Covid Recovery plan and Government priorities and approaches to a Wellbeing economy and to Community Wealth Building. If these are taken seriously by the Industry Leadership Group, then this will lead to a reimagined and redesigned retail sector. This will not necessarily be a rapid change, but it will clearly signal priorities for the retail sector and its location and operation.

Within the Place strand the focus is on developments already in train, including the Place Based Investment Programme, NPF4 (encompassing many of the planning issues in A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres), 20 minute neighbourhoods, the Go Local campaign for local sourcing, the development of Business and Community Improvement Districts and the forthcoming Scottish Government/COSLA formal response to A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres aka Town Centre Action Plan 2. As the Strategy makes clear there is a clear role for retailing in strengthening communities and town centres (in both physical and digital terms), but this may well require new thinking from many of the retail organisations.

Overall, the Strategy aims to align the retail sector with the National Priorities Framework and Outcomes in perhaps a much closer fashion than has been seen before. As ever though, a strategy is only the starting point and it is the implementation to an aggressive timescale that will provide the evidence of the real position of retailing at the heart of the economy and society. Hopefully we can look forward to a bold approach.

Aligning the Retail Strategy with National Outcomes

In the next post I will reflect on some of the questions the Minister fielded when he made his statement to Parliament and my thoughts on what some of the questions and the issues they raise tell us.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.


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