By Kristy Dorsey

Retail sales in Scotland fell in February as storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge kept shoppers at bay, reversing gains recorded in the previous month.

Publishing its monthly figures today, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said its findings highlight the serious headwinds the sector was facing even before the coronavirus outbreak took hold. Government assistance flowing from last week’s Budget and a further £330 billion promised yesterday by Chancellor Rishi Sunak were welcomed, but “more may well be required”.

Total retail sales in Scotland fell by 0.8%, far worse than the 12-month average decline of 0.3%. This compares to a 0.1% increase for the UK as a whole during February, as reported last week by the British Retail Consortium.

Adjusted for deflation, Scottish sales were 0.1% lower on the same period a year earlier. The decline was led by 3.8% fall in non-food retail sales – seen as an indicator of discretionary spending – while total food sales were 2.9% higher.

“These figures underline how tough trading conditions were in Scotland’s retail destinations in February, even before the coronavirus onslaught of the past fortnight, with retail sales essentially flat once shop price inflation is considered,” said David Lonsdale, director of the SRC.

“The devolved Government has in recent days responded to the urgent situation with both financial and practical assistance. Ministers have flexed the rules around out-of-hours delivery times to shops and depots, allowed firms to defer business rates payments in order to aid cash flow, and scrapped next month’s across-the-board business rates increase.

“These steps will help bring a little confidence and cash flow to pressured businesses, albeit more may well be required as the situation develops.”

The spread of Covid-19 suppressed tourism levels in the latter part of the month, with knock-on effects for associated spending. However, it prompted a pick-up in food sales as consumers started stockpiling.