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Handbag therapy

Douglas Fraser | 07:45 UK time, Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What to do with those recessionary blues. For a certain part of society, it's obvious... new shoes or a handbag.

And sure enough, the Scottish Retail Consortium reports this morning that sales of women's shoes and handbags are bucking the downturn in Scotland's shops.

But it's most often the kind of fashion goods that can be used repeatedly.

So too for items linked with the improved weather last month, which makes a big difference to sales: garden furniture and barbecue food included.

But it remains a real struggle for those selling those bigger ticket items for the home, including furniture, flooring and DIY - the latter being a category that can be expected to pick up a bit once people have decided they're not moving home and want to do a bit of sprucing up.

The figures from the SRC's survey are positive for all sales, and even for like-for-like, the figures analysts find more meaningful that compare last month's retail space that was open last year.

By contrast, the most recent UK like-for-like figures were just into negative territory.

The other part of Britain that gets its own figures is London, and that has seen a healthy increase in retail therapy, which is at least partly explained by the city's attraction to foreigners who find the weakened pound has made its shops more appealing.

That's just the first part of the economic picture that's getting coloured in with a bumper day of figures today. Of course, Alistair Darling's Budget at Westminster is going to be the main event.

But this morning, we'll also be getting the latest unemployment figures. Don't expect them to look too good.

And we'll get the latest on Scottish economic growth, or lack of it.

These figures are lagging behind the UK ones, as they take longer to collect, and it's hard to separate out UK data from the Caledonian variety.

So we'll find out this morning what was happening in the final quarter of last year.

If that was negative, it will be the second successive quarter, as there was a -0.8% contraction registered for July to September last year.

And that means we'll get confirmation of what is already rather old news - that Scotland's in recession.

Why so much economic news on one day? Could it be that Budget day might be a good opportunity to bury bad Scottish economic news?

The man in St Andrew's House assures me that it's not like that.

Government statisticians fix the dates for such announcements well in advance, and in this case before they knew when the Budget would be delivered.

And woe betide the government minister or official who tries to meddle with the statisticians.


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