A few weeks ago, in response to feedback received from businesses across Stirling, I hosted a summit in the centre of the city which was attended by a number of small, medium and large businesses.
The common goal discussed at the summit was how we can all play our part to maximize the potential of Stirling.
We should not be afraid to talk up what our fantastic area has to offer.
Stirling has so much to offer for residents and visitors and potential businesses who are looking to relocate to the city and surrounding area.
Indeed, on certain measures such as shop vacancy rates, Stirling on average fares better than similar sized towns across the UK.
Events such as the Runrig concert and the Stirling Marathon have recently shown the city at its best as visitors poured in from all over the world to enjoy what we have to offer.
Tourism to Stirling is also booming and in the last financial year, Stirling Castle attracted over half a million visits and increased its footfall by an outstanding 15% on the previous year.
It is clear to see that the local tourism industry continues to grow and that the Stirling area is the place to be for visitors to Scotland.
Plans for a new National Tartan Centre as a result of the Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal and funded by the UK Government will also help to drive more footfall into the town centre.
However, there are also great challenges for Stirling city centre and I had the opportunity to hear these first-hand at the summit.
Changing trends and behaviours, driven by a wide range of economic, demographic, social and technological factors- have affected the prosperity and vibrancy of our high streets.
It is true that some of the issues facing Stirling city centre are not wholly unique and similar stories of empty buildings, lack of footfall and increasing anti-social behaviour can be found in towns across Scotland.
However, that does not mean that the concerns of those impacted should not be listened to or dismissed out of hand.
Issues such as anti-social behaviour, substance misuse, street drinking, waste management, littering, declining footfall, impact of business rates and changes to parking were all discussed in depth with over 40 local traders, local stakeholders and representatives from Police Scotland in attendance.
These issues were raised by those who have to deal with them on a daily basis.
This is not about talking Stirling down – it’s about recognising what the issues are and solving them in order to make Stirling the very best it can be.
Following the meeting, I held a very productive and constructive meeting with Stirling Council officials to discuss the issues raised at this public forum. It was very encouraging to see how responsive Stirling Council has been to the concerns raised.
I will be reporting back directly to the businesses on actions which will be taken to address some of their concerns in the short term and also what actions they can take in shaping future developments.
It is time for a mature discussion on the way forward for businesses in Stirling city centre and the issues which affect them, and I fully intend to keep the views of traders at the top of the agenda.
I am available to discuss any concerns that constituents may have and ask that you email me directly on email@example.com with any issues that you may have.
This article was originally published in the Stirling Observer on 26th and 28th September 2018.