More than 400 bank branches, shops and local businesses have closed or have been winding down in Scotland since the start of 2016, new figures show.
The Federation of Small Businesses is calling for measures to reverse the closures, averaging nine a month.
In a report, it says the Scottish and UK governments must invest in projects to make towns better places to work, live and run a business.
The group also wants a commission to tackle the rise in vacant properties.
The FSB report urges:
- £90m of annual investment in hard-pressed Scottish towns from the Scottish National Investment Bank and the UK Stronger Towns Fund
- A new Scottish government commission to tackle the blight of empty properties
- Banks to deliver on their shared hubs promise, and new help for independent traders to better utilise digital technologies.
FSB Scotland’s Andrew McRae said: “More people in Scotland live in towns than cities. That’s why governments in Edinburgh and London must make a generational investment in our towns to overcome their current challenges and prepare them for how we’ll work and live in the future.”
In the last three years, more than 300 local bank branches have closed or are winding down.
FSB has warned that the big banks must deliver on promises of help, especially in the largest branch-free towns.
The report also argues for a new town-by-town business support programme – rolled out by Scottish Enterprise – to help high street businesses make the most of new technologies.
Andrew McRae said: “In terms of local closures, the banks are the worst offenders.
“At the very least, they should make good on their promise to roll-out shared banking hubs and we’d urge them to start with the largest bank-less towns.
“Many smaller businesses are at the forefront of using new technologies to boost their efficiency, productivity and most importantly sales. But others may be behind the curve.
“Scottish Enterprise should develop a programme to give local traders a helping hand.”
Scotland’s Towns Partnership has welcomed the proposals in the FSB’s Transforming Towns report.
The national agency’s chief officer Phil Prentice said: “The time is right for a renewed focus and investment for our town centres and high streets.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and town centres are the backbone of our communities.”