The attitude of those in whose hands the future of struggling retailers rests seems to have changed

It may be too early to speak of green shoots. But after the tumult of the final quarter of last year, the first three months of 2009 haven’t been anywhere near as bad as they could have been.

That’s not to downplay the impact of collapses like Principles on its staff and suppliers. But most will have been surprised that all the sales measures have performed much better than expected, while the March quarterday has not yet brought any significant casualties.

The going remains treacherous and there is no shortage of retailers in intensive care – JJB and Robert Dyas to name but two. But what does seem to have changed is the attitude of those in whose hands the future of struggling retailers rests.

In the past, Lloyds Banking Group would have probably forced Robert Dyas into administration. But we are living in a different world, and Lloyds is no longer just a bank; it’s an arm of the Government. That introduces all sorts of new political PR considerations.

That’s good news for those retailers that find themselves struggling not because of a failure of their business model but because of onerous debt positions. And it’s absolutely right that, having received billions of taxpayers’ money to keep them afloat, the banks factor in the impact hundreds of store closures and thousands of job losses would have.

It’s not just the banks either. Seeing the potential harm empty stores present, landlords are now taking a much more sensible view of rents and last week’s initiative on service charges is an excellent move. If the JJB CVA plan is approved, we will know for sure we have moved into a new and more reasonable era.

If he can make it there…

The state of retailing in the US at the moment makes what we’re going through here look like a boom. Which makes Topshop’s opening in New York last week even more of a triumph. According to our stores editor John Ryan, who was in the Big Apple last week, it was the only store in town that was busy, and the construction delays have been overcome to create a great store.

Perhaps we’re a bit too familiar with Topshop here in the UK but talk to anyone from overseas and its status as a global brand is clear. With Sir Philip Green having only scratched the surface of the potential for growing it abroad, there is a huge opportunity if he’s inclined to exploit it.