Anas Sarwar has announced today that he would aim to save Scotland’s high streets by giving a £75 prepaid card to every adult Scot as part of “the largest economic stimulus plan in the history of devolution”.
With a “radical” scheme to attract people to their local shops, the Scottish Labour leader wants to address the shift from high street shopping to online retail that was accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It has also been been revealed that the opposition party’s manifesto will propose the ‘Great Scottish Staycation 2021’ with the offer of a ‘third night free’ Scottish government subsidy of holiday accommodation.
“The last year has been tough for us all. The pandemic has separated us from our friends, families and neighbours. But amid the hope of an end to the public health emergency, we must recognise that Scotland still faces a job crisis,” Sarwar said.
“Without urgent and ambitious action in towns across this country, hundreds of thousands of people face a future out of work – with empty town centres hollowing out once vibrant communities. But it doesn’t have to be that way – the people of Scotland deserve a brighter future, and we have it in our power to act.”
The prepaid card would be given to everyone aged 16 and over to spend in non-food businesses in Scotland. It would be time-limited, starting in June – or whenever it is safe to reopen retail – and last six months.
The money, which could not be used for online purchases, would be launched alongside a ‘local shop’ campaign encouraging people to support their local high streets. Unspent cash would be donated to food banks.
The policy is similar to the one put forward by the Resolution Foundation think tank last year, when Rishi Sunak was advised to give every household in Britain high street vouchers worth £500 per adult and £250 per child.
The think tank said it would be universal, activated over a fixed time period and easily deactivated if another Covid wave required sectors to be shut down. It was sold as a more targeted solution than cash payments to households.
The number of retail jobs on high streets dropped across most of Scotland between 2015 and 2018, and almost 13 shops closed every week over the last year. Non-food shops were forced to temporarily shut for long periods.
Scottish Labour’s ‘third night free’ policy would be accompanied by a ‘Scotland is open’ campaign to welcome visitors from across the British Isles in September, October and November 2021, the traditional off season.
It would contribute £50 per person to the cost of their third night’s accommodation, capped at £100 per booking, on off-peak days. The funding would aim to help a sector that supports 217,000 jobs and is worth £11bn annually.
The Scottish Labour leader said: “This is bold and ambitious thinking to aid our economic recovery and get Scotland back on track. This scheme would invite people from across the UK to visit every corner of our beautiful country – saving jobs and creating a lifelong love of Scotland.
“This is a chance to reward Scottish families for their sacrifices in the last year and help keep fellow Scots in work to support our national recovery. A vote for us at this election is for a parliament focused on solutions, not divisions – a stronger recovery for every community and every family.”
People across Scotland will vote on May 6th to elect 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), who consider and pass legislation on health, education and transport in the devolved nation, as well as on some tax and social security issues.