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Office of National Statistics

Love is in the air…

Carla Melvilleby Carla Melville
Family Law Team, Lindsays

With Valentine’s Day just round the corner, thoughts are very much focused on romance. With Cupid’s arrow striking, February is a time when many couples decide to take the next step in their relationship, whether that be moving in together or getting engaged.

The Office of National Statistics confirmed that 5.9 million people were cohabiting in the UK in 2012. That is double the number of cohabiting couples in 1996. In 2013, there were 12.3 million married couples living in the UK. The provisional number of civil partnerships in the UK in 2012 was 7,037. Unfortunately, figures released by the ONS last week also indicate that there were 13 divorces per hour in England and Wales in 2012. In the same publication, the ONS estimated that 42% of marriages will end in divorce.

When love dies - you don't want the courts involved

When love dies – you don’t want the courts involved

Figures for Scotland have not yet been released, but in 2012 we saw around 30,500 marriages take place and more than 500 Civil Partnerships. At the other end of the spectrum, around 9500 couples were divorced – or more than one every hour of the year.

Although couples embarking on cohabitation, marriage or a civil partnership may think it unfathomable that things will go wrong in the future, it is important that anyone deciding to take that next step in their relationship does so with all of the facts available to them. Many people still believe in the myth of a ‘common law marriage’. There is, in fact, no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’ but it is important to note that cohabiting couples do have the right to make various financial claims in the event of either separation or death.

Similarly, in the event of separation for married couples or couples who have entered into a civil partnership, there are many financial elements to consider, including aliment, payment of a capital sum, pension sharing orders and more.

The only way to ensure that your interests are protected is to enter into an Agreement regulating what you wish to happen in the event of a future separation. For cohabiting couples this is known as a Cohabitation Agreement.

For couples about to marry or enter into a civil partnership, the Agreement is known as a Pre-Nuptial Agreement. The content of a Pre-nuptial Agreement can vary widely depending on the parties’ individual circumstances but can cover the division of property upon separation, rights to aliment and rights of succession in the event of one party’s death. When people think of “pre-nups” they often think of Hollywood starlets trying to protect their fortune. The reality is that Pre-nuptial Agreements in Scotland are becoming increasingly popular as they provide peace of mind as to what would happen in the event of a future separation.

Although we are not suggesting that anyone intending to ‘pop the question’ this weekend necessarily presents the ring together with a carefully drafted Pre-nuptial Agreement, we would strongly recommend giving consideration to an Agreement in order to ensure that your position is protected.

libdem1Scottish Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott launched the party’s Sports Action Plan after joining Spartans FC for a youth training session in Edinburgh. At the session, Mr Scott also expressed his support for Scottish sport by signing the “Vote for Sport” pledge, an initiative organised by the Scottish Sports Alliance which is encouraging MSPs to act as Scottish Sporting Champions during their time at Holyrood.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a Scotland-wide school Olympics along with changes that would allow community organisations and co-operatives a greater say in the running of football and other sports.

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Commenting, Mr Scott said: “Sport is more than taking pride in the achievements of Scotland’s elite athletes. Sport should genuinely be for all. Our policies would provide people of all ages with more chances to get involved at both the local and national level. We would support the immense contribution volunteers make towards making sport accessible for as many people of all ages as is possible.

“Sport can bring people together in a way that few other things can and we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that we maximise the benefits it brings to Scotland.

“The training session I participated in this morning was what sport should be all about – people coming together to play their game in the right spirit and enjoy themselves.”

Brian McKelvie, chair of the Scottish Sports Association, said: “The campaign has been received very positively and it’s great to see such a demonstration of support for sport here at the Spartans Football Club with the Liberal Democrats.”

Commenting on Shelter Scotland’s analysis of the parties’ manifestos, Liberal Democrat election chair George Lyon said:

“We recognise the need for serious, long-term investment in Scotland’s housing stock, which is why we”ve identified £250 million for insulation of homes and buildings, cutting household energy bills and creating jobs. We”re pleased that Shelter recognises this substantial investment.

“We will also take steps to bring back into use the 70,000 homes lying empty in Scotland, with grants to homeowners who take this on, provided they allow housing associations to rent them out for 10 years. And we”ll extend programmes to help people who are struggling to get on the housing ladder, afford their first home.

“These are ambitious plans that will make a real difference to people in Scotland. “Providing decent housing is essential if we”re to meet our long-term ambitions for the economy, health and social well-being.”

greens2Scottish Greens

The Greens welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll showing the party on 6 per cent on the second vote, a result which would see a significantly larger group of Green MSPs elected to the Scottish parliament, and noted an additional question which asked Scots who they would like to see the next first minister work with. This second question shows that the Greens are the preferred post-election partners for both SNP and Labour voters.

Patrick Harvie said: “This election will answer two questions: who will be first minister, and who will they have to work with at Holyrood. Today’s poll indicates that both Labour or SNP voters would prefer to see their candidate for first minister working with Greens to deliver a fairer and more sustainable Scotland.

“Perhaps the worst outcome of this election would be a Scottish government dependent on one of the coalition parties driving the cuts agenda from Westminster. That way lies a continued assault on public services and an administration which pours cold water on Scotland’s economy. The only alternative to this bleak scenario is a strong second vote for the Scottish Greens.

“Overall this result shows the Greens as one of only two parties heading upwards in the polls. We’re running a positive campaign to defend public services, to guarantee the funding which can keep tuition free, and to insulate every home in Scotland, and we’re delighted to see this approach getting such a warm response.”

Scottish Greens also announced their plans for a true zero-waste Scotland, pledging to back communities across the regions fighting plans for a generation of mass-burn waste incinerators, and to scale-up support for local reuse and recycling initiatives. The Greens are the only party that consistently opposes these incinerators, and Greens are committed to revising the Scottish government’s waste strategy to bring in a moratorium on new facilities. The party argues that burning waste will significantly undermine recycling efforts by creating a built-in demand for waste.

The party will make the case in the next parliament for a strategy that reduces overall levels of waste at source, conserving valuable resources and creating more jobs in community reuse and repair projects, as well as supporting the local provision of recycling facilities. Greens would also pilot a packaging “deposit and return” scheme, which has resulted in very high recycling rates in countries such as Denmark and has long been pioneered with glass bottles by Barrs in Scotland.

Kirsten Robb, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate in Central region, announced the policy ahead of a public meeting on incineration organised by Greens in Stonehouse, a Lanarkshire community threatened by proposals for an incinerator.

Kirsten Robb said: “Scottish Greens have been on the side of local communities across Scotland who simply want a better solution when it comes to waste. Whether in Newton Mearns or Dunbar and from here in Stonehouse or Carnbroe right up to Invergordon, Greens support campaigners who are worried about the health of their families and who just want a safe and sustainable system for reducing waste. Incineration is part of the same old thinking, it’s ‘landfill in the sky’ for local authorities who are running out of space and facing millions of pounds in fines for not tackling the root causes of this problem.

“We want a Scotland that starts by reducing waste in the first place, not just burning it or sending it to landfill. There are hundreds of examples out there of community projects leading the way in sharing, repairing and reusing items, often saving people money in the process. We think that most people who shop in a supermarket would also agree that big retailers and manufacturers have got a long way to go to reduce packaging and stop pushing offers that increase food waste. Voters who want a party that is ambitious about a more sustainable and less wasteful Scotland should use their second vote to elect a strong group of Green MSPs to the next parliament.”

The Greens launched a mini-manifesto on issues relating to children, with policies including: the provision of free nursery education for all children aged from three upwards, commitments on universal free school meals and outdoor education, the introduction of a new School Grounds Enhancement Fund, support for the Active Schools and Eco-Schools programmes, support for home learning, and the introduction of child safety legislation with the aim of making Scotland the safest place to grow up in Europe.

Alison Johnstone, the Greens’ education spokesperson and top candidate in the Lothian region, said: “These policies are designed to give Scotland’s children the best start in life that we can possibly give them, by keeping them active, feeding them well, protecting them from harm and ensuring that they live, learn and grow up in a safe and sustainable society. The Scottish Greens recognise that today’s young people are tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, and that early interventions to make them as fit, healthy and happy as possible are important in helping them to become well-rounded and active members of Scottish society.

“Our children must not be wrapped up in cotton wool – we must give them the opportunity to explore and learn, and recognise their rights, as well as teaching them about their own responsibilities, to society and to the environment in which they live. If we get it right at the start, the rest just falls into place – active, healthy, happy children are far more likely to steer clear of crime, and to become happy and fulfilled members of society, so investing in them at an early age brings benefits and savings for the whole of society.”

labour3 Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour has reacted to an analysis of the Scottish Tories’ manifesto costings by NUS Scotland which has unearthed a black hole of between £500m and £1.5billion in their university spending plans.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Eastwood, Ken Macintosh, said: “This revelation blows apart any plans the Tories had to balance their budget on the backs of students. Not only are the Tory plans to hit students in the pockets deeply unfair, their sums just don’t add up.

“The Tories must come clean on exactly how they are going to pay not only for their higher education polices, but their entire manifesto promises.

“Only yesterday an independent evaluation of the manifesto costings found that Labour’s was the only party that had balanced it budget. Now the Tories are back, Labour will not only balance the books, we ensure no price tag is attached to those who want to go onto university.”

The last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a Labour government, Scottish Labour said yesterday.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland. In the Good Morning Scotland interview, the prime minister said: “…the more that the Conservatives get in terms of votes and seats in parliament the more influence Annabel will be able to bring to bear and because you have got this particular voting system where you’ve got your peach form as it were for the regional vote, I would urge people, whatever they do for the constituency vote to vote Conservative on the list vote because then we’ll get more Conservatives and more common sense in the parliament.”

Scottish Labour also pointed to one of its latest leaflets that highlight the fact that David Cameron secretly wants a SNP government.

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Dumfriesshire, Elaine Murray, said: “It is clear the last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a strong Labour government standing up to the Tories at Westminster. David Cameron has already arranged for the Tory’s favourite newspaper to back the SNP so it is hardly surprising than he even now even seems to be encouraging people to vote SNP.

“He seems to have given up.

“Now the Tories are back, it is only Labour that can fight Scotland’s corner and focus on the things that really matter like apprenticeships, jobs and getting Scotland back to work again.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has slammed the Tory and SNP campaigns as being “out of touch” with the lives of ordinary Scots, after David Cameron tried to play down the cuts that were being made in Scotland.

The prime minister’s comments came on the same morning that Alex Salmond was guest of honour at a breakfast banquet hosted by News International. Labour believe that News International are backing the SNP in Scotland because David Cameron fears a Labour win.

Speaking after campaigning with Gordon Brown in Fife yesterday, Iain Gray said: ”It is absolutely stunning that David Cameron has tried to downplay the impact of his cuts in Scotland. To try to make out that things are fine is just fantasy.

“10,000 Scots joined the dole queue this year, but Alex Salmond and David Cameron have a vested interest in pretending that everything is going fine. They are giving each other an easy ride, but it’s people in Scotland that will suffer as a result.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland. “Meanwhile, I was in Fife campaigning with Gordon Brown and talking to people about the things that really matter. We were talking to people that were concerned about jobs and we explained how Labour would abolish youth unemployment and create a quarter of a million jobs.

“People in Scotland will be very suspicious of an out of touch SNP that seems to be getting closer and closer to David Cameron’s Tories as each day in this campaign goes by.”

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scotcon2 Scottish Conservatives

A poll in yesterday’s Scotsman has shown that two-thirds of Scots back a graduate contribution of up to £4,000 to the cost of their university education. The poll came on the on the same day that NUS Scotland attacked Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution towards the cost of their degree.

David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative campaign manager for the Scottish parliament election, said of the poll: “This is more evidence, after last year’s Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, that Scots are fair minded and accept that it is fair for graduates to make a contribution towards the cost of their university education. It is clear that, regardless of which party they support, people are in favour of this.

“In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.

“Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that, on average, a university graduate will earn £12,000 a year more than those who have not gone to university. Over a working life, that is a pay boost of half a million pounds.

“Despite all the evidence, Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP refuse to find the money needed to bridge the real funding gap. Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution, paid from future earning, at an affordable rate will mean that Scotland’s universities can retain their excellence, retain their student numbers and we can also boost bursary support for students from poorer backgrounds by £55 million a year.

“By contrast, the deficit deniers in the other parties threaten our universities’ standing, threaten up to 13,000 student places and are out of tune with public opinion.”

On the statement yesterday by the NUS Scotland, Mr Brownlee said: “This attack from NUS Scotland is just not credible. On this evidence, NUS Scotland appears happy to sit by and see student numbers reduced and Scottish universities enter into a spiral of decline. If we listen to NUS Scotland, then universities will face a black hole in their funding.

“We have made clear that for the lifetime of the parliament, we would cap the graduate contribution at £4,000. NUS Scotland has got so many assumptions wrong in their haste to attack Scottish Conservative plans to safeguard student numbers and increase bursary support, that their claims cannot be taken seriously.

“Only yesterday, the independent CPPR (Centre for Public Policy for Regions) report from Glasgow University said that alone of the parties only the Scottish Conservatives were looking at plans to secure the necessary support for higher and further education without ‘accepting a slow, gradual, decline in the standard of Scottish post school education and research’.”

snp1 SNP

First minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attacked David Cameron over Scotland’s near-£200 million fossil fuel levy, in an article in the Courier during his visit north of the border, where he said that the UK government are giving Scotland £250 million of resources for the Green Investment Bank.

Mr Salmond pointed out that the UK government are refusing to hand over the Fossil Fuel Fund without deducting the same amount from the Scottish budget, and that Scotland would be due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank given the advanced nature of our renewables industry in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: “It is typically Tory to try to short-change Scotland with our own money.

“The Con/Dem coalition are refusing to hand over Scotland’s fossil fuel levy – worth nearly £200 million – without clawing the cash back from the Scottish budget. This money could and should be used to power forward the renewable energy sector in Scotland, helping to reindustrialise the nation, including developing ports around Scotland such as Dundee.

“Pro-rata, Scotland has ten times the renewable energy capacity as England, and we are due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank – regardless of the fossil fuel levy, which should be wholly additional to the Scottish budget.

“The SNP will fight for Scotland’s resources – Labour failed to deliver the fossil fuel levy, the Con/Dems are also pauchling the money, and a re-elected SNP government would have a mandate to get it handed over at long last.”

The Scottish National Party welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll in the Times and the Scottish Sun which puts the SNP ahead on 45 per cent in the constituency vote to 34 per cent for Labour, and shows 42 per cent of Scots backing Alex Salmond for first minister on the list vote with only 32 per cent backing Labour.

The poll shows a 5 per cent swing to the SNP since the last Mori poll in February, and gives the SNP its highest poll rating in this campaign, whilst Labour’s rating is at its lowest since May 2010 (31 per cent, YouGov 3-4 May).

Commenting on the poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race. We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

The poll result comes as Tommy Brennan, one of Scotland’s trade union leaders, has endorsed Alex Salmond’s re-election as first minister – citing Mr Salmond’s “inspiring goal” to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the world in renewable energy technology.

Mr Brennan was works convener of the Ravenscraig shop stewards, and the man who led the fight to save the Scottish steel industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He worked at the Lanarkshire steel plant for 31 years until 1991.

Mr Brennan said: “Alex Salmond’s vision for Scotland is one all Scots should support. I’m delighted to endorse him for a second term as first minister.

“I remember only too well the pain caused by the de-industrialisation of Scotland under the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, and believe that Alex Salmond’s ambition to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the renewables energy revolution is an insipring goal for young Scots and for jobs and industry in the 21st century.”

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Pirate Bay: But what is piracy?

Pirate Bay: But what is piracy?

A recent report from the grandly-titled “United States Government Accountability Office” confirms what many had long suspected. The statistics on file-sharing, copying and so-called “piracy” are made up, usually by the very industry bodies that are lobbying for legislation to prevent it.

“Three widely cited US government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies,” says the report “Intellectual Property: Observations on Efforts to Quantify the Economic Effects of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods” which you can download here.

It’s not just in the USA that accurate figures for copyright-breaking activity are hard to come by. In fact it seems impossible to find a single reliable statistic anywhere in the world on file-sharing, copying and other similar practices. That doesn’t stop governments and industry bodies quoting figures as if they were authoritative.

Computer World UK blogger Glyn Moody looked recently at the European report prepared by the International Chamber of Commerce, “Building a Digital Economy“. The document offers the surprisingly exact figure of 7.3 million people being involved in illegal filesharing in the UK in 2009.

The source is music industry trade body the BPI. Tracking that number Moody found its statistically dubious origins to a 2008 study by Jupiter Research. This extrapolated the figure from a study of 1,176 households where 11.6 per cent or 136 people said they had used file-sharing software. The figure was revised upwards to 16.3 per cent to take account of the likelihood that some people wouldn’t tell the truth. How the precise number of dishonest respondents was ascertained has not explained.

The next step was to multiply the final figure by 40 million, an estimate of the number of people in the UK with internet access in 2008. This is rather larger than the official figure of 33.9 million from the British government’s Office of National Statistics. So, with a couple of undocumented extra figures the BPI has managed to almost double the number of illegal file sharers from less four million to over seven million.

Why does this matter? Business organisations frequently make up statistics because the media constantly demands numbers. Just look at the number of phoney surveys that fill the pages of newspapers, especially on a quiet Monday. And has anybody ever checked to see whether a company’s claim that it’s going to create 2,000 jobs in 18 months bears any resemblance to what actually happens?

The difference is that these dodgy file-sharing statistics have been the basis for drawing up legislation including the Digital Economy Act which was rushed through parliament with minimal discussion just before the start of the general election campaign. This increased maximum fines for illegal copying to £50,000 and made it possible to cut persistent file sharers off from the internet.

The way that the figures used to support the introduction of the act were invented is not surprising given their source. The music and movie industries have promoted a colossal lie for so long that it’s become established as the truth. “Copying is theft,” they say. That is total and utter nonsense.

Think about it. If I steal your bicycle you won’t be able to ride it. If I copy it then we both have bicycles to ride. It’s as simple as that.

Obviously, digital technology which enables people to simply make replicas of music, video and so on has destroyed the business model based on copyright that has existed for centuries. There is increasingly strong legislation to protect that business model which means those that break the resulting laws are committing a crime. But the fact that something is illegal doesn’t make it theft.

Copyright is really just an enforced temporary monopoly. This is tacitly accepted by many of its holders. How often, for example, have you heard companies say they’ll have to increase the price of their products to compensate for “piracy”?

If they can do that they are breaching the fundamental law of capitalism – supply and demand. It’s simple: copying increases supply, therefore the price should fall. If it doesn’t, that’s because somebody has a monopoly on the product which allows them to charge what they like. (Yes this does mean there’s an argument that copying, illegal or otherwise, is good for consumers because it drives down prices for everybody.)

And there is a fundamental difficulty in estimating the cost of copying or counterfeiting. Many studies are based on the concept of “substitution”. In other words, if a consumer didn’t have a copy of a product they would pay full price for it. This is patently nonsensical. If I, for instance, buy a fake Rolex for £10 from a stall in the Barras this doesn’t stop me spending £500 or whatever on a real one. It could however mean I do not get a £12 Timex. But the figure sounds so much better if the stall-holder is busted with 200 fake watches valued at £100,000 than a more realistic £1,000.

A further propaganda success of industry bodies is they’ve managed to lump together a whole collection of disparate activities under the term “piracy”. What has copying copyrighted material got to do with robbery at sea? And does anybody really think that downloading a tune is the same as passing off counterfeited goods as if they were the real thing? Well, maybe there are people who also believe taking paper clips from work is the same as robbing a bank, seeing the difference as just a matter of degree.

In fact this is not far removed from another partial truth promulgated by industry bodies. They’ll tell you that copying is taking food from the mouths of struggling musicians, actors and other artists. Well, it is … up to a point.

Copyright exists mainly to protect the interests of the distributors not the creators of visual, written or audio material. There’s a fascinating brief history of copyright laws here. What it shows, essentially, is how the earliest legislation was to give a monopoly to the owners of the first copying technology – printing presses. The legacy continues.

A tiny proportion of writers, photographers. musicians and artists make a living as a result of the copyright on the sale of their work. And who gets royalties, a proportion of the sales income, is often fairly arbitrary. A hit record, for instance, is the result of a team effort involving a combination of composers, singers, backing singers, main musicians, backing musicians, engineers and producers in varying quantities. Most will receive a flat fee even though their contribution might be vital to the success of the recording. The biggest beneficiary is the composer largely because the music industry hasn’t entirely forgotten that sales of sheet music used to comprise their income.

More importantly, the division of income the creators receive represents just a tiny part of what the fans fork out for their CDs and downloads. Authors fare no better. From a book costing £10 the writer is unlikely to get much more than 50p. It’s a rarity to make more than £2,000 from a book.

But just about everybody who manages to get their work published dreams they’ll be next Dan Brown or JK Rowling, or at least they’ll earn more than they would flipping burgers. The music and book industry can roll out the equivalent of lottery winners to support copyright laws. It attracts so much more public sympathy to have a rock star warning that they won’t be able to make any more records as a result of file sharing than it is to have a chief executive worrying in public about his salary and his company’s profitability.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a very serious problem for the so-called “creative industries”. Nobody has yet come up with an alternative way of rewarding its workers as the copyright system falls apart. It can only get worse. Faster broadband will make downloading movies, music and games easier and faster, whether they’re from legitimate sources or not.

What is wrong is to introduce legislation on the basis of unproven statistics. For one thing, how can you prove that a law is effective if there is nothing to compare it with? Equally, among all the industry statistics there seem to be none that show how much copying affects the income of individual writers, artists and musicians. One suspects that the figures would simply reveal how appallingly badly paid they always have been.

Copyright currently resembles a large old factory that’s been hit by an earthquake. The companies that have run it it are now rushing round posting “keep out” notices and trying to shore-up the edifice with copy protection. Meanwhile it remains obvious to just about everybody that it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. What’s not clear is what will emerge from the rubble.

Sastrugi

Did snow and ice hit the growth figures?

The release today of the latest growth figures for the UK will make disappointing reading for the Government. The economy grew by only 0.2% in the first three months of the year, about half of what the market had expected. Even so, it confirms that the country is continuing to move slowly out of recession. Because of this, the pound fell half a cent against the euro.

However, there are a couple of factors which should be taken into account. The first is the appalling weather right up to the end of last month. The Office of National Statistics itself reports of anecdotal evidence suggesting that poor weather hurt the growth figure with heavy snow having hit retail and production output in particular.

The second is the way these figures are calculated. Every set of economic data ends up being revised and the current domestic product estimates are no exception. Today’s figures are based on only about 40% of everything that’s included in the final report. In fact, the ONS will release two further estimates for growth for this quarter, based on more detailed economic information.

Naturally, the figures have been fair game for politicians on the Stump. The Prime Minister took heart though his comments were fairly terse. “As today’s GDP figures, our economic growth figures make clear,” Gordon Brown said, “the recovery is definitely under way.”

By contrast, the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, described the data as “…a reminder that Britain’s deep economic problems remain. After the longest recession,” he said, “we now have a jobless recovery from a weak government. These figures are below expectations and they come in a week when unemployment went up again and the government borrowed more than ever before.”

The Liberal Democrat’s economic spokesman, Vince Cable, tends to agree. “These figures show that the promised recovery is barely visible. There is a real danger of the UK going into a double dip recession. As people deal with their own debts and as the banks continue to strangle good British businesses by starving them of credit, the recovery will remain fragile.”

Experts and analysts however take slightly different lines. Take James Knightley of ING Financial Markets for instance. He acknowledges that confidence is falling, with real wage rates falling and what he calls “fiscal consolidation” set to kick in. With that in mind, first quarter GDP is “pretty disappointing”.

Bryan Johnston, divisional director of investment management at Brewer Dolphin in Edinburgh, argues that “one quarter’s figures don’t give too much of an insight into the state of the economy. We need at least one more quarter to see the trend. These are also preliminary estimates and they’ll be revised and almost certainly revised up.”

He added that growth on this scale was unlikely to have much impact on employment, especially when an incoming Government would have to cut back on jobs. He believes that growth would need to be over 0.5% to see any improvement there and “…it will be two quarters before we see that start to happen”.

In the view of Duncan Higgins, senior analyst at Caxton FX, “there may be revisions, but it is clear that Britain’s recovery is still set to be protracted, significantly lagging other G7 economies.” But he thinks the market may be anticipating an upward revision. As he points out, “the estimate of economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2009 was revised up from 0.1% to 0.4%.”

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight takes the view that the data are “disappointing, but not disastrous. Overall growth in the first quarter was clearly dragged down appreciably by the very bad weather in January, and most indicators suggest that there has been a marked pick up in activity since then.

But those on the front line of the British economy seem to be taking quite a sanguine approach. In John Walker’s opinion – he’s national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses – the growth shows “encouraging signs that we are on the road to recovery”, though the “situation is fragile and business confidence remains weak.”

Then you have the Institute of Directors expecting the recovery in the economy to “look much more L than V-shaped” and the British Chambers of Commerce insisting that the figures underlined “the challenges still facing the economy” though they warn that “it’s important for policy-makers to focus on ensuring that the recovery continues and a double-dip recession is avoided”.

<em>Picture: Finlay McWalter</em>

Picture: Finlay McWalter

There are signs that there are stirrings in the economy. Confidence appears to be returning among consumers, at least if the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics are correct. They show that the seasonally adjusted value of retail sales in March 2010 rose by 4.4 per cent compared with this time last year. The volume of sales was up as well, by 2.2 per cent.

What should give retailers most grounds for optimism is the breakdown of this spending. At last, we’re back to buying things like household goods and not just food. They went up by 6.6 per cent, with textiles, clothing and footwear rising by 2.8 per cent.

However, there was one major factor in all this – Easter. The British Retail Consortium, the retail trade association, believes that this is the main cause for the rise which, in the view of girector general, Stephen Robertson, was a “distorting effect”.

He points out that the seasonally adjusted figures actually show slower growth compared with February. “There was a big boost to food sales caused by Easter falling a week earlier than last year,” he explained, “with the first half of the bank holiday weekend falling into this March’s reporting period. Last year’s very weak performance also helped to flatter the annual comparison.”

Also today came the CBI’s Industrial Trends Survey. It suggests that Scottish manufacturers have seen something of an upturn with stronger growth in output and orders in the three months to April. Significantly, the volume of new orders was better than the previous quarter, with the survey at its highest since April 2006, reflecting an improving trend in both home and export orders.

Despite this, Scottish manufacturers still plan to cut back sharply on investment in the coming 12 months, and have become more concerned about demand as a constraint to investment.

Nonetheless, Scottish director Iain McMillan, takes heart from the figures. “These results provide further encouragement for Scottish industry,” he said. “Whilst challenges and risks do remain, business sentiment is improving, reflecting the progress witnessed across a broad range of indicators.

“The challenge will be to sustain this improvement and ensure that it is not short-lived. This underlines the need for policymakers to prioritise policies which promote business investment and exports.”

As if to reinforce the importance of policy in all this, Scottish Enterprise published forecasts based on its own spending plans over the coming decade. The agency claims that these “have the potential to generate an additional £2 billion for Scotland’s economy by 2020.” This, it says, comes from an independent economic impact assessment on the plan.

So what does it contain? Well, in the coming year, the agency says it will invest more than £226 million in supporting Scotland’s business. This includes £98 million of direct business support; £29 million to deliver specialist projects within key sectors such as life sciences, renewable energy and financial services; and £98 million to develop the business environment.

Scottish Enterprise chairman, Crawford Gillies, said that the business plan mapped out its priorities and showed where it would focus its efforts on accelerating economic recovery and creating a more globally competitive Scottish economy.

But he added: “We recognise that we can’t achieve this impact on our own. With increasing budget pressures across the public sector in Scotland, we are looking to work in new ways with our partners to deliver more for less and truly have a transformational impact on Scotland’s economy.”

Historically, SE has tended to focus on creating jobs in Scotland by attracting foreign companies. It is evident from this plan that this remains at least one part of its strategy. It says it hhopes to attract at least 2,400 high value jobs through inward investment to boost employment in Scotland’s key sectors.

But it also appears to be offering help to locally-based firms. For instance, it is promising intensive hands-on support for at least 18 high-growth start-up companies, which have the potential to grow into £5 million businesses over the next three years. It’s also aiming to encourage between £65 million and £75 million of business investment in research and development through the R&D grant programme.

Other priorities including helping companies to improve their operations and become more efficient while helping other access new international markets. It also wants to focus on identifying new and emerging opportunities on the global stage that will help to transform Scotland’s economy.

Lena Wilson, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, acknowledges that our economy continues to face challenges, “but we need to play to our strengths, maintain our ambition and really start to think about Scotland’s economy in an international context. We know that many of these opportunities will emerge in the key sectors where Scotland has world-leading strengths and existing competitive advantage.”

She believes that Scotland’s unique resources in offshore wind, for example, means there is a huge prize for the economy if it can seize the opportunities that exist in this sector. She argues that there are similar opportunities in other sectors including life sciences, digital media, financial services, food and drink, and tourism.

“However,” she concludes, “we are operating in a fast-moving global economy and clearly opportunities will arise in other sectors. The challenge for us is to be able to maintain our focus on the areas which will have most impact on the Scottish economy, while being agile enough to adapt to new opportunities as they emerge, and converting them into an economic return for Scotland.”