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Boost for retailers as growth speeds up

YEAR-on-year growth in the value of Scottish retail sales accelerated sharply last month to its fastest pace since April 2011, but was nevertheless adrift of the UK-wide rate, industry figures reveal today.

The Scottish Retail Consortium survey shows the total value of retail sales north of the Border in January was 2.1% higher than in the same month of last year.

This is an improvement on the 1.5% year-on-year rise in December, and it is much better than the 1.2% year-on-year fall in Scottish retail sales value recorded for November.

With annual UK shop-price inflation in January put by the British Retail Consortium at 0.6%, today's survey signals the volume of Scottish retail sales last month was up about 1.5% on January 2012.

Food sales were particularly strong in Scotland last month, showing a 5.2% year-on-year rise. Hogmanay was included in the January survey period this year, in contrast to a year earlier when it was included in December 2011 sales. Retailers also enjoyed strong demand for clothing and footwear last month, fuelled partly by cold weather.

SRC director Fiona Moriarty said: "After battling consistently tough conditions through most of 2012, this is good news for Scottish retailers."

However, the SRC notes the year-on-year rise in sales last month was achieved against a relatively weak comparative, with the value of sales in January 2012 having been down 1.5% on a year earlier.

And the value of non-food sales, the more discretionary element of consumer spending, was down 0.7% year-on-year in Scotland in January.

Annual growth in sales value in Scotland last month trailed a 3% year-on-year rise recorded for the UK as a whole in January by the BRC.

Ms Moriarty said: "The fact New Year's Eve was included in the survey period this year but not last year boosted January's food and drink results. The comparison with January 2012, when sales growth was negative, also helped the overall figures. But even so, this is an encouraging start to what's still likely to be a challenging 2013. The key question now is: is this just a blip or dare we hope it signals the start of a lasting revival for customers and retailers?"

A survey published today by consumer association Which? highlights a "long squeeze" on UK households, with many unable to save, too worried to spend, and unlikely to cope with financial shocks. Of consumers surveyed by pollster Populus for Which?, 54% forecast household budgets will be tighter this year and 42% expect the economy to get worse in the next 12 months, with 41% already finding it tough to cope with an unexpected expense.

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