Are you local? Edinburgh's charity shops need a thorough clear-out

Are you local? Edinburgh's charity shops need a thorough clear-out

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 13, August, 2018

EDINBURGH is a rather special city. There is no other in the UK like it. A capital, a village, a tourist theme park, a financial centre. It has a lot going on and a lot going for it. It has traffic to match and like every city with a large student population it has council services stretched because a significant number of working age adults pay no council tax.

Sadly neither do over 100 charity shops in the city. I may have a heart of stone but my heart sinks when I see one. Not just one, maybe five or six on the same street. The clustering and concentration of them in the city centre poses many issues.

The first one for me is that a charity shop has two beneficiaries, the charity's case and the local people who benefit from incredibly subsidised items. To justify such large tax breaks as business rate exemptions I really feel a tangible local benefit is needed otherwise surely the government should be paying the business rates instead?

The second is that the money raised by the charity should be worth more, much more than the business rate reduction. Else the money could be used helping say the homeless in Edinburgh, infirm children in Edinburgh or refugees in Edinburgh. 

The third is that such shops should do no harm. Small independent book shops and clothes retailers struggle against charity shops, especially when clustered together. By allowing landlords to avoid business rates they keep rents far higher than they need to be for others by crowding out the limited supply. Many sadly look very tatty and jumble sale in appearance and this I feel lowers the tone of the street if there are too many of them.

A quick glance of the map above shows Nicholson Street, Raeburn Place and Leith Walk are drenched in them, while elsewhere in the city there is a dearth of charity shops. While these shops do need to make commercial decisions so do other businesses that pay a salary to their workers.

The government should look to de-cluster charity shops and keep them away from high rent areas of the city centre. If a charity shop with free stock, free staff and no business rates cannot turn a profit outside the city centre their managers are in the wrong business.

Why can charities not pool their stock and have a large out of town unit? Why don't churches take on the role and have the proceeds go straight to their collection boxes? How much accounting could that save?

In other countries pawn shops are run by the local authority so why can't Edinburgh Council establish its own shop for used items? There are plenty of underfunded services for local people with difficulties that could benefit.

As you can see, there are many alternatives that don’t come with the same problems that so many charity shops, especially clustered together, can bring to the High Street.

Having so many UK-wide charities hawk their political opinions left right and centre but mostly left I can't help thinking some local shops for local people would be very welcome.

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