Analysis: Scotland isn’t so much worse off than other UK regions

THE latest report from the Scottish Retail Consortium is not good. It just continues the trend that it is pretty bad up here in Scotland.

It does come to something when all we can say is that sales are “less bad” in February compared with the previous month when this is the worst since records began.

It just shows that we are getting accustomed to bad retail sales north of the Border, as it has been going on for such a long time.

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However, with these figures, you do have to be a wee bit careful. For one thing, they do not include internet sales, whereas the UK-wide figures do.

This is because the majority of stores do not state whether online sales come from Scotland or elsewhere.

But I would be interested to know if we in Scotland buy a lot more of our goods online that elsewhere. The other problem with the UK comparison is that we very much have a two-tier retail economy.

London and the south-east of England are prosperous parts of the country which are roaring ahead – then you have everywhere else.

What would be interesting to know how our figures in Scotland compare with the north-west of England or Wales. I think we would find that we weren’t so far behind.

I don’t really have a sense that Scotland is so much worse off than any of the other regions of England would be.

There is no doubt that disposable income is being badly squeezed at the moment, but people are getting used to using what extra money they do have to pay off debts and so on.

There are a lot of people putting off buying things for as long as they can or not replacing things.

Although there have been some signs of green shoots, I think it is going to be a very slow recovery.

There are tax and pension changes due in April, while airline passenger duty is set to go up.

Halifax put up its mortgage rates recently and other lenders could follow suit, which will concern people.

So what we’ve got is a whole series of elements which work against people using their disposable income for actually buying stuff.

While internet shops and some out-of-town retailers may weather this fairly well, it is on the high street where we are likely to see the biggest impact. I think we will see a reduction of major chains and some towns will see that come in a cascade.

And the local economy, ie independent retailers, will be the only ones left that are able to fill the gap.

I think that Scotland will suffer more than the rest of the United Kingdom because it is more expensive for companies to have a supply chain here, particularly outside of the Central Belt.

• Leigh Sparks is professor of retail studies at Stirling University.