Last week’s Scottish Budget was strikingly different from previous years. With Covid restrictions dominating day to day life and the unprecedented hit to the economy it’s hardly a surprise there was less build up and politicking ahead of the statement.

It was also predictable there would be eye-catching giveaways – there is of course (probably) an election in May.

However, even without an election there was a good case for generosity from the Finance Secretary. The Scottish Fiscal Commission report provided a stark reminder of the depths Covid has sent the economy into, with a return to pre-pandemic size not likely before 2024. Unemployment is heading towards eight per cent. Sadly, retail is not immune; the last few weeks have seen further job losses as several high street casualties prepare to close their doors.

The SRC’s own figures back up these predictions. 2020 saw the worst ever retail sales figures, with the crucial Christmas trading period wiped out for many by Covid lockdowns. Shopper footfall has collapsed, and we are at a six year high in shop vacancies – with one in seven stores empty. The crisis in much of the industry is a harbinger of the wider pressures facing the economy.

It’s welcome the plight of the industry has been recognised by Scottish Ministers. Our priority ahead of the Budget was for support with business rates – which had soared to a 20-year high, up by a fifth over the past decade. The decision to reduce the business rates poundage a smidgeon, and to guarantee at least three further months of 100 percent rates relief for stores provides vital breathing space for hard-pressed retailers. Rates relief has been a lifeline over the last year – reducing costs, helping finance firms’ Covid safety investments, and giving businesses a chance to stay above water.

It’s worth noting the relief extension was funded by essential retailers who volunteered to repay last year’s rates relief. It’s to the Finance Secretary’s credit she listened and used the revenue to support other retailers. Similarly, the decision to lower the tax rate will help all retailers and others once relief ends – an important recognition business and government need to work in partnership to build a recovery.

Of course, if retailers face a reverse rates cliff edge again in July that will be little consolation, particularly for the 3,000 stores liable for the higher property rate. The three-month extension will help – but more will be needed and the earlier there can be clarity of the relief available for the remainder of the year the better, especially with trading curbed by the likelihood of physical distancing continuing in stores.

There is no path to recovery which doesn’t consider the needs of consumers. It is positive consumers won’t be hit with income or council tax rises. Hopefully, that will prevent shoppers from trimming spending. However, with spending already constrained it’s hard to see the measures in this Budget which will kickstart economic activity and transactions and get the economy moving once Covid restrictions ease.

That is the biggest omission. This is an encouraging Budget to stabilise the economy – keeping shuttered businesses afloat until the current restrictions end. However, there is little which will reignite recovery. It means the focus on recovery now switches to the Chancellor’s Budget in early March. If Rishi Sunak’s decisions provide further revenues for the devolved administration through the Barnett formula then it may be the Scottish Budget outlook looks quite different next month. If so, retailers will hope the Finance Secretary keeps the future of retail and the 230,000 jobs it provides front of mind when any future decisions are made.

David Lonsdale is director of the Scottish Retail Consortium