Nobody would deny that this is a really tricky time for the high street. Just this week, even all-conquering Primark suggested that its sales are slowing as consumers begin to feel the squeeze, not just from spending cuts and the VAT rise, but also from a combination of rocketing fuel and food prices. And according to Stephen Robertson, director-general of the BRC, anecdotal evidence has shown that so far, February’s figures aren’t looking any more encouraging.
Now the BRC says the Government needs to do more to help out struggling retailers. In a submission to the Chancellor in the run-up to the Budget, it pointed out that 80% of the new jobs announced by the Prime Minister in January’s Jobs Summit were retail-based - but the sector will need help to create them. It's lobbying for measures like the suspension of April’s rise in fuel duty, a halt to new employment regulation until the economy is back in growth again, and an extension to the amount of time the Government needs to give between notifying businesses of an increases in National Minimum Wage (from six to 18 months). All of this would help them create new jobs, they say.
Some will argue that the Government shouldn't be going out of its way to help big, profitable retailers like John Lewis and Sainsbury's (both of whom were represented by their CEOs at the meeting) - especially since most of the jobs they're talking about are of the menial, minimum wage variety. But let's not forget that the BRC is also representing the concerns of much smaller retailers too - who, if anything, are more exposed to the economic headwinds. Help from any source will be welcome, as far as they're concerned.
On the other hand, splashing the cash on stuff we didn't really need is partly why we're in our current mess. So if more and more people decide to save and pay off debts rather than spend this year, you can hardly blame them - painful though it will be for retailers.