The shops may not have been filled with people getting party supplies for Hogmanay or Burns Night, but good news has come in the form of the Scottish government’s decision to extend rates relief to stores.

Finance secretary Derek Mackay delivered the boost in his Budget statement at Holyrood, with Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) director general David Lonsdale giving the news a warm welcome.

He said: “The Finance Secretary has clearly listened to SRC’s concerns and responded positively to extend full business rates relief for retailers until the middle of this year. This provides vital breathing space as the industry hopefully emerges from lockdown.”

Mr Lonsdale added that the waiver of business rates is “absolutely critical” for the sector, which is the largest single employer in Scotland. He noted that the “top priority” for the industry was that the previously scheduled full restoration of business rates in April must be avoided.

The SRC chief pointed out that even the likely end of lockdown in the spring will not be a “panacea”, as the need to enforce ongoing social distancing measures and the reduced physical trading capacity that will come with it are sure to reduce in-store footfall and trade.

Other measures listed in the Budget were also welcomed by Mr Lonsdale. He pinpointed a pledge not to raise income taxes and to freeze council tax as means of protecting the incomes of consumers, thus bolstering their spending power and therefore providing support to retail.

Of course, there may be better times ahead in the coming months as the vaccine roll-outs and new treatments could help minimise the impact of the virus and ensure the economy is able to open up more.

This will be of benefit to the whole UK economy, as might any new measures announced by chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak when he delivers his Budget in March.

A particular development that might aid the UK retail sector could come from the tightening of border restrictions to prevent the spread of new variants of the virus, particularly if this curbs foreign holidays for Britons in the summer due to ongoing requirements to stay in hotel quarantine when they return.

The result of this is already being seen with a surge of bookings for staycations in the spring and summer. This means Britons will be staying at home in the UK and thus spending their money in British shops. This may be particularly welcome for Scottish retailers as popular tourist destinations like Edinburgh and the Highlands see an influx of domestic travellers.

However, the flip side of that could be a low number of international visitors, which will limit the benefit, except from countries where the Covid threat may have been greatly diminished through successful suppression of the virus or successful vaccine roll-outs.

In the meantime, however, that rates relief lifeline may be crucial in order to enable struggling shops to survive to face the future.