Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Downturn to create 'ghost towns'

Rutherglen is among the towns likely to be hit hardest hit by closures

Five Scottish towns likely to be the worst affected by the economic downturn have been named by the business researcher Experian.

Clydebank, Kirkintilloch, Rutherglen, Cumbernauld and Kilmarnock have been singled out because they already have a high number of empty shops.

They were also said to rely heavily on chain stores which have gone into administration in recent months.

Experian said 135,000 stores could lie empty across the UK by end of 2009.

The gloomy prediction comes despite better than expected results for some high street giants, including Next and Debenhams.

Marks and Spencer announced that it plans to close 25 of its small Simply Food stores and another two of its regular stores and cut about 1, 200 jobs.

Researchers at Experian said they expected the UK vacancy rate in the high street to rise rapidly from 7% to 10% by February 2009.

They claimed smaller towns close to the big cities were likely to be worst affected.

The loss of major multiples such as Woolworths will leave a significant gap in these towns and is likely to have a knock on effect on other retailers
Jonathan de Mello

Jonathan de Mello, director of retail consultancy at Experian said: "The unprecedented level of retail vacancy will be disproportionately spread across Britain, so that smaller retail destinations, in particular market towns, will be worse affected.

"The loss of major multiples such as Woolworths will leave a significant gap in these towns and is likely to have a knock on effect on other retailers."

He added: "Many local authorities and shopping centre managers will face a challenge this year, as they seek to reverse the effects of retail decline."

Experian said that across Britain shop closures would have a devastating impact on people's livelihoods.

Mr De Mello said: "Britain is still a nation of shop keepers and the retail sector is one of the UK's largest employers.

"It is not just people directly employed by retailers that will suffer from the fallout of this Christmas, it is also their suppliers and service providers."

Competitive discounts

However, Douglas Millar, chief executive of the Lanarkshire Chamber of Commerce said that with a bit of work traders in the towns hit hardest by high-street closures should be able to weather the storm.

He said: "Having spoken to local traders this week I know they are keen to keep their businesses going and ensure people keep coming through their doors.

"They are already looking at offering competitive discounts in a bid to attract customers.

"There is a bit of work to be done but it's not all doom and gloom and I think we may be able to avoid some of the closures the researchers are predicting."

He added: "Business need to market themselves effectively and look at collaborating to encourage shopping locally.

"In East Kilbride traders take part in a voucher scheme and that might be worth considering in Rutherglen and Cumbernauld.

"The Chamber of Commerce is also there to support local traders. We offer business mentoring which could help them weather the storm."

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