Comment: We must look to Osborne effect to catch up

Martin Flanagan

Martin Flanagan

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THE latest Scottish retail figures for June have confirmed what the depressing footfall performance for the month – the worst since January – suggested earlier this week. Stripping out online purchases north of the Border, which remain healthy, Scottish consumers are showing a noticeable reluctance to buy things in the shops.

And, says the Scottish Retail Consortium, it looks like a significant gap is opening up between consumer confidence in Scotland and down south.

Total Scottish sales fell 0.4 per cent in June (down by 1.7 per cent with internet sales stripped out), while on an underlying same-floorspace measure they fell 2.2 per cent. On both measures, UK-wide, sales were up.

Of course, not for the first time, weather might have played a part. Whereas the weather wasn’t absolutely scorching in England in June, it was rather more settled than in Scotland, and even though some abrasive retailers have occasionally said making the excuse of the climate in the sector “is for wimps”, it is still a relevant factor in determining shoppers’ habits and enthusiasm for purchases.

Even though the evidence is more anecdotal than empirical, the latest disparity between the Scottish and non-Scottish sales figures could indicate there have been even greater price promotions in Scotland than down south.

The silver lining was online, with Scottish non-food sales including internet buying showing their best growth since last November.

We should not draw premature conclusions from the latest general data. But it does look currently as if Scottish retailers even more than their English and Welsh counterparts will be hoping rising wages and George Osborne’s recent raising of personal tax allowances and introduction of a living wage will feed through into increased consumer confidence.

Royal Mail circular

I sometimes wonder why Royal Mail goes to the bother of regular trading updates. For some time now, the organisation’s chief executive Moya Greene surely could have got by with breaking it down to the following: trading environment tough, letters bad, parcels good, regulator on our back, taking costs out on auto-pilot.

It was the picture repeated at this year’s annual results, and at yesterday’s Q1 update.

The letter delivery arm of Whistl and parcel firm City Link have both folded within the past seven months. But it has not changed the Royal Mail narrative.

That suggests it is fighting with one hand tied behind its back in handling the tough current trading environment while having to retain the universal postal service – the Royal Mail’s commitment to make deliveries to all parts of the UK at a flat rate, six days a week.

Royal Mail’s shares have done decently this year, even if off their post-privatisation highs. But until regulator Ofcom’s review into the group’s operations and the sustainability of the universal service is completed, probably next year, I think we will have more of a sense of déjà-vu with the Royal Mail’s announcements.

Killing the golden goose

THE run on the gold price is all the more remarkable given the financial volatility from Shanghai to the eurozone. Gold should be in its element as a haven from asset anxiety in these still unclear macro-economic times. What next, US treasury bonds becoming iffy?

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