North East MSP Liam Kerr has accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of giving Aberdeen a “slap in the face” after he asked a question on the city’s retail future.
Scottish Conservative Liam Kerr raised concerns about the future of the High Street in the wake of the closure of Debenhams during first minister’s questions on Wednesday.
Ms Sturgeon noted the retention of major retailors in cities like Aberdeen were the responsibility of the council, as well as local development teams.
During her answer, the first minister was forced to pause due to heckling coming from MSPs in the chamber.
Mr Kerr asked: “What is the first minister doing to proactively help councils find occupiers for empty buildings to ensure great cities like Aberdeen don’t come to resemble ghost towns?”
During her response, Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh acknowledged a difficulty in hearing the first minister’s reply, after the deputy first minister John Swinney “heckled” Scottish Labour MSPs. What Mr Swinney said was inaudible.
Ms Sturgeon joked she would “have a word” with him later.
She said: “I am going to resist the temptation to assume responsibility for filling individual shop units in every town and city.
“It is an important question and I don’t mean to minimise it.
“We work with councils to support them through funding; it is of course – and this is not just about not wanting it to be my or the Scottish Government‘s responsibility – local economic development teams and local councils are best placed to recruit.
“The point I make, it is right and proper and most effective for the local development teams to focus on who they are trying to recruit and who is best to be targeted for investment in their own areas.”
‘A slap in the face’
Following this, Mr Kerr said: “Businesses need help in a way like never before and equally so does the council to entice traders to fill these empty stores in Aberdeen.
“The response given by Nicola Sturgeon was a slap in the face to not just the council but the people of Aberdeen who want to see their city centre prosper.
“She may laugh at heckling in the chamber during my question but we in Aberdeen certainly aren’t laughing at the fact our city centre risks become a ghost town.
“Debenhams is one of the biggest units in the city and I’m seriously concerned the store will sit empty for years to come if this situation isn’t addressed immediately.
“Aberdeen has seen more closures and redundancies than most other places so surely there’s a greater case to help the city before more and more shut up shop.
“These buildings must not be left to rot and the SNP Government need to step up to ensure more support is given to help the council and businesses to fill these empty voids.”