The leader of the opposition at Falkirk Council has called for the administration to look into reducing rates for High Street stores in the wake of the M&S announcement.
Dennis Goldie made his statement at a meeting of the executive today, during a discussion of updated reports on the Council of the Future and Community Empowerment initiatives.
Members talked about the state of Falkirk High Street following Marks and Spencers’ bombshell last month it had earmarked its Falkirk town centre store for closure.
Councillor Goldie, who is convener of the council’s executive despite being in opposition to the administration, said: “Have we given any consideration to a reduction in rates for Marks and Spencers and other major stores on the High Street?
“Rates for M&S have gone up by £5000 per year and it’s feasible the rates of other major stores have also gone up. Would it be possible to assist major stores in the High Street with their rates?
“We are hoping M&S can be persuaded to stay, but that train may have left the station. We are concerned about other stores in the town centre. If we can protect the core of stores in the High Street by looking into a reduction in rates for a certain period then it’s something we should look at.
“We should be looking at rates relief and a rates holiday for stores in Falkirk High Street that are in trouble, because that will only increase if M&S do pull out.”
There was doubt among administration members that a drop in rates would help reverse the fortunes of some businesses in these changing times of online shopping.
Councillor David Alexander said: “I regret very much M&S has taken the decision to escalate its closure programme from five years to three years. If we think M&S could be saved with a rebate of £5000 per year then that’s not credible.
“It’s about the long term decline of Falkirk High Street. The issue we now face is how we arrest that decline. In 2007 Falkirk was the sixth most popular shopping centre in Scotland and in 2017 it fell to 18th.
“I would rather we set aside party politics and all work together on this to arrest the decline and turn around the long standing decline of the our town centre.”