Lower retail volumes create further economic uncertainty

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Disappointing retail figures during 2012 have raised concerns about the health of the UK economy during the final quarter of the year.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), retail volumes were down 0.1 per cent on the month, up 0.3 per cent on the year.

John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said that in spite of positive recent announcements by some companies, the retail sales figures are "incredibly disappointing".

"The expected Christmas revival did not happen, and major high street firms are now going to the wall," he noted.

"Given the stagnation we are seeing it is little surprise that the retail sector remains in a relatively parlous state."

Mr Longworth said that in spite of the weak figures, businesses are still confident they can drive growth in 2013.

"But in order to do this the government should do all it can to kick-start growth," he stated.

Ministers should recognise there is a need to help retailers by opening up opportunities for UK companies to exploit both domestic and overseas markets, Mr Longworth added.

This should help promote UK goods to satisfy international trading demands.

BCC chief economist David Kern said the retail figures reinforce the risk that the ONS will announce a small negative figure for the fourth quarter.

He described the situation as "concerning", but said some perspective is needed, and businesses should not descend into unnecessary gloom.

Mr Kern claimed there are positive features in the economy, with welcome news including a strong increase in UK car exports in Q4 2012.

He noted that a recent BCC study also pointed to an increase in confidence.

"It is premature to talk about a triple-dip recession, but it is clear that the economy’s performance is too weak, and sustained measures are needed to support growth," Mr Kern noted.

"While pressing ahead with spending cuts in key areas, the government must put greater efforts into rebuilding the economy’s productive potential through stimulating investment, and more effective measures to increase the flow of lending to credit-worthy businesses."

Posted by Dan Smith