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Retail sales rise to lift the gloom

SCOTTISH retail sales rebounded in the third quarter, having fallen in the three months to June, according to official figures which provide some relief amid the general economic gloom.

SPEND IT: Retail sales volumes in Scotland rose by 0.9% for the third quarter of the year Picture: Colin Mearns
SPEND IT: Retail sales volumes in Scotland rose by 0.9% for the third quarter of the year Picture: Colin Mearns

The seasonally-adjusted figures from the Scottish Government show retail sales volumes north of the Border rose by 0.9% quarter-on-quarter during the three months to September. This was ahead of a 0.7% rise in retail sales volumes in Great Britain as a whole.

However, the Scottish sales figures were grim in the second quarter. Retail sales volumes in Scotland fell by 0.2% quarter-on-quarter in the three months to June, in contrast to a rise of 0.7% recorded for Great Britain in the second quarter.

Comparing the year to September 30 with the preceding 12 months, Scottish retail sales volumes were up 1.1%. This is adrift of a corresponding rise of 1.5% in Great Britain as a whole.

The under-performance by Scotland on the retail sales front over this longer timeframe chimes with surveys from the British Retail Consortium and Scottish Retail Consortium, which have pointed to a significantly weaker picture north than south of the Border.

Euan Murray, relationship director at banking group Barclays, said of third-quarter Scottish sales: "As a result of the summer's feelgood factor, we have seen a gentle rise in sales."

He cited his belief that the broader economy was now on an "upward trajectory", and highlighted the importance of the fourth quarter for retailers.

However, he acknowledged a survey this week by pollster GfK NOP, on behalf of the European Commission, showing UK consumer confidence fell to a six-month low in October.

Mr Murray added: "With UK consumer confidence at its lowest level for six months and rising energy bills, retailers will have to work hard to persuade consumers to spend, spend, spend in the run-up to Christmas."

David Lonsdale, assistant director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, said of the latest Scottish sales figures: "These encouraging figures mirror the findings of the CBI's own [UK] retail surveys, with solid growth being reported across a number of retail sub-sectors."

He noted the CBI's surveys signalled rising sales volumes were "expected to continue over the next few months".

A survey published last month by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce showed the economy north of the Border had suffered further and more widespread weakening and showed no signs of recovery.

This survey painted a bleak picture of trading in the Scottish manufacturing, construction, tourism, retail and wholesale sectors, and showed businesses had revised down their expectations for the final three months of this year and the first half of 2013.

In Scottish Chambers' survey, retailers in Scotland reported tumbling sales and employment and they expected these trends to continue. And businesses in this sector forecast sharp falls in turnover and profitability during the next 12 months.

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