UK retail sales fell - who were the biggest casualties?

Blockbuster, HMV, Jessops and more.

UK retail sales fell in December - 0.1 per cent from the month before. For a December, this is bad: at 0.3 per cent the annual growth rate is the slowest since 1998 (excepting 2010).

Only one sector has been doing well: rather unsurprisingly, online retailers are fine. About 10.6 per cent of sales were carried out online during the month, compared to 9.4 per cent in December last year.

Companies from other sectors have not been as lucky. Here are the biggest casualties from the past year:

1. Blockbuster

On 16 January the company announced it would go into administration. Online competition and posted rental videos had destroyed the business.

2. HMV

The company announced it was filing for adminstration on 15 Jan, overtaken by supermarket and online sales of CDs and DVDs.

3. Jessops

Administration happened on 9 January. Competitors had been supermarkets, smartphone cameras, and internet camera vendors.

4. Comet

Went into administration on 2 November: the sale of TVs and other large appliances have mostly moved online.

5. JJB Sports

Announced administration on 24 September. Rival Sports Direct had wiped it out.

6. Clinton Cards

The company announced administrators were coming in on 9 May. Supermarkets and the internet had started selling greetings cards, and the company couldn't compete.

7. Aquascutum

17 April went into administration. The economic downturn had caused major problems.

HMV filed for administration on on 15 Jan. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.