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12 April 2016

Can businesses save town centres?

 dock boats fishing

The demise of town centres is a familiar tale. Generally the story features:

  • The economic downturn in 2008 and symbolic store closures like Woolworths, etc
  • The exponential growth in online shopping.
  • The inability of the high street to adapt to changing consumer habits.
  • How the high street is dead.

In almost all cases, including a variety of government reviews, little attention is placed on the businesses who, as much as the buildings, shape how vibrant or successful these places are.

This fixation with physical regeneration - and the lack of results it produces - is something we’ve been shouting about for some time. It’s also at the heart of our manifesto call for more local, resilient economies. 

There is no magic wand to turn around struggling town centres, but as we argued at a session we chaired in Perth, BIDs ScotlandBusiness Improvement Districts (BIDs) are part of the solution. These opaquely named bodies aren’t without their critics in the small business community, however BIDs are delivered and paid for by business and can be kicked out in an election if they don’t perform.

It’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to review BIDs with a view to giving them a greater role in their communities. In practice this could mean managing services such as car parks, public toilets or street maintenance on behalf of local government, with all revenues being invested back into towns.

Could small, local businesses save towns? Let’s find out. 

See how FSB have campaigned on this issue