More robust policing is required to tackle the scourge of retail crime, five leading Scottish politicians have agreed.
The call to better protect shop owners and their staff came in a digital hustings organised by the Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN), which represents almost 1,500 retailers in Scotland.
The hustings took place on 19 April, ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on 6 May.
Taking part in the debate were Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar; SNP candidate for Edinburgh Eastern and the Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham; Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Economy in the last parliament and the Conservative candidate in West Scotland region Maurice Golden; MP for Edinburgh West and the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for the Treasury and Trade Christine Jardine; and the Scottish Greens’ candidate in the Highlands and Islands Anne Thomas.
Admitting that retail crime was “a massive issue”, Sarwar said this was exacerbated by police failing to engage when small value items were stolen. He described policing efforts as “not good enough”, adding that too many women and BAME shopkeepers felt targeted.
“Too many people have to live in fear at work because of the colour of their skin, accent or sex,” he said.
Agreeing that current levels of crime were unacceptable, Denham called for more education and more reporting of incidents to raise awareness of the scale of the issue.
Citing poverty as one of the factors behind retail crime, Thomas called for “better, more responsive policing”.
Jardine blamed the frustrations of young people, citing their lost job opportunities and lost education. “The root of the problem is increasing inequality,” she said. “We have to improve our social projects and education to get people out of poverty.”
Jardine promised that the Liberal Democrats would reform business rates as high street retailers were unfairly hampered.
Thomas also called for a review of business rates and said the Scottish Greens would look to introduce a windfall tax on online retailers.
According to Golden, business rates were no longer suitable in a digital age. The system was unfair, which was why the Conservatives would look to review them.
Sarwar also called for reform, explaining there was a need to address the imbalance between online retailers, the larger supermarkets and independent retailers.
Other topics covered in the hustings were the impact of Brexit on the supply chain, Scottish independence and whether shop staff should be given priority Covid jabs.
Speaking after the event, which can be viewed on the NFRN Scotland Facebook page, Scottish District President Ferhan Ashiq said: “The Scottish hustings was brilliant. It was a great opportunity for members to put their questions and concerns to the leading political figures from the five main parties in Scotland.”