15 February 2007, 19:41 PM
  • As the plight of the independent retail sector hots up, the battle is on to save small shops on Scotland's high streets.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has set out its manifesto plans, with a recommendation that political parties take them on and it has stepped up its campaign to get a more level playing field with supermarkets and other large out-of-town retailers.

The lobbying group argued for a doubling and simplification of the business rates relief scheme, which already cuts smaller business bills by £30m annually. The campaign has already made progress in influencing SNP policy, which wants to exempt many smaller traders from paying any business rates, while extending the rebate scheme for those who continue to pay.

The FSB also wants more research into the impact of each supermarket development, to determine the effect on small retailers and town centres, with ‘health checks’ on town centres and improved public transport and parking to support them.

The issue has been rising up the political agenda in recent years, as people find shopping streets losing their traditional small-scale businesses, in the face of competition from supermarkets. Indeed, research has shown the number of food retailers in Scotland fell by 1685 between 1998 and 2004 - a drop of 20% in only six years. A further FSB survey found the effect of a new supermarket can be to reduce town centre shopping for 75% cent of local people, while 90% of local small shops suffer a downturn in business.

The FSB argues that it is not opposed to supermarkets and retail parks. Policy convener Andy Willox said, “Our manifesto builds on the recent work we have published on the impact of new supermarkets on the high street and specifically calls for a review of commercial leases to ensure independent retailers are getting a fair deal from their landlords.”