Retail gloom contrasts with Scots jobs market

Visitor numbers to Scotland’s shopping areas suffered a further fall last month, suggesting that retailers struggled to shift stock in the January sales.
Shoppers in Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Picture: TSPLShoppers in Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Picture: TSPL
Shoppers in Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Picture: TSPL

The latest footfall figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), published today, show a 1.8 per cent drop in the number of shoppers compared to the same month last year.

It is a slight improvement on the 1.9 per cent fall recorded in December, but contrasts with an improvement in shopper footfall south of the Border.

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SRC director David Lonsdale said: “We won’t know for certain until the January sales figures are published if the decline in visits leads directly to an impact on sales; however it isn’t encouraging news for retailers in Scotland.”

He added that the vacancy rate was unchanged in January at 11.1 per cent.

“We can’t get away from the fact that over one in ten retail premises in Scotland is sitting empty,” he said.

“One need only look at their own local high street to see the impact this is having and a constant reminder of why reform of the business rates system is so important.”

Across the UK as a whole, footfall in January was 1.6 per cent higher than a year ago, the best performance since December 2011.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, the group which compiled the data, said retail parks had performed better than the high street.

She said: “The weather has clearly had an impact, as footfall in [Scottish] high streets fell by 4.6 per cent, a far more significant drop than the fall of 0.6 per cent in high streets across the UK.”

The difficulties on the high street contrast with positive news from other parts of the economy, with surveys today also showing that jobs are being created and business confidence is riding high.

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Bank of Scotland’s latest report on jobs showed further marked increases in permanent and temporary staff placements last month.

Combined with a further drop in candidate numbers, a pick-up in demand from employers supported strong growth in staff pay, although rates of inflation in temp hourly rates eased since December.

The Bank of Scotland “labour market barometer” – a composite indicator designed to provide a single figure snapshot of job market conditions – posted 62.6 in January, down slightly from December’s 63.6 but above its long-run average.

Donald MacRae, the bank’s chief economist, said: “January showed a further marked improvement in Scotland’s labour market returning the barometer to pre-crisis levels of 2007.

“The recovery in the Scottish economy is not only continuing but is strengthening as we enter 2014.”

The latest “business trends” report by accountancy firm BDO in Scotland showed optimism reached its highest level for 22 years in January.

Martin Gill, head of BDO in Scotland, said: “Confidence has hit record highs as we enter 2014 and we expect the economy to grow rapidly in the first half of the year.

“An interesting feature of the recovery so far has been the way in which productivity remains at levels last seen in late 2005. Looking at this optimistically, this means that the economy can continue to grow for some time by increasing productivity before wage-related inflationary pressures begin to kick in.”