Scotland’s high streets suffer second worst year in a decade for failures

Scotland’s high streets suffered the second worst year in a decade for insolvencies in 2019 with further pain likely this year as the Covid pandemic accelerates change.

A virtually empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the spring lockdown. Experts are forecasting another gloomy year for the Scottish high street. Picture : John Devlin
A virtually empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the spring lockdown. Experts are forecasting another gloomy year for the Scottish high street. Picture : John Devlin

Bankruptcies averaged five a week in 2019, according to property management platform Apropos by DJ Alexander.

The firm has analysed data from the Insolvency Service and found that businesses falling into insolvency in Scotland reached 274 last year.

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This is the second highest figure following 2012’s peak, when 315 businesses went bust, with last year’s total up 9.1 per cent on 2018.

The figures cover business failures in retail, restaurants, pubs and bars, and those involved in real estate activities indicating that the high street was in trouble before the pandemic broke out.

The latest total is 55 per cent higher than the 177 insolvencies recorded in 2010 and tracks a “prolonged and progressive decline in fortunes over the last decade”, the firm added.

David Alexander, joint chief executive of Apropos by DJ Alexander, said: “It is clear that the Scottish high street has been in trouble for some time, but these figures indicate just how much trouble it was in before this year.

“The aftermath from the pandemic will undoubtedly bring more sorrow to the centres of our towns and cities as the initial lockdown and subsequent measures will have had a disastrous effect on the viability of many businesses.

“But the woes of the high street in Scotland have been happening for many years. High rents imposed by intransigent commercial landlords, the over-supply and rapid expansion of restaurants in the casual dining sector, and the shift to online buying have all contributed to the decline and this situation has simply been exacerbated and accelerated by the pandemic.”

He added: “It is clear that many of the public have lost the taste for crowds and traditional ways of doing things.

“Whilst this may be temporary there are indications that working from home may become a more permanent way of operating for many businesses.

“This will require a rethinking of the way in which Scottish high streets operate. This means not trying to replicate what is disappearing but thinking of new ways to deliver services and new methods of operating.”

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