Economy fears hold back retail sector

Uncertainty among the region's shoppers over the immediate economic future is holding back the retail sector, according to store bosses.Independent store chiefs in Norfolk said many customers were still nervous and were waiting to see what measures chancellor George Osborne announced in his emergency budget on June 22 before committing to major purchases.

Uncertainty among the region's shoppers over the immediate economic future is holding back the retail sector, according to store bosses.

Independent store chiefs in Norfolk said many customers were still nervous and were waiting to see what measures chancellor George Osborne announced in his emergency budget on June 22 before committing to major purchases.

And they said that any increase in value added tax (VAT) ran the risk of denting confidence further and halting a retail recovery in its tracks.

There is increasing speculation among business leaders that the government will announce a rise in VAT over the next few weeks, although a government spokesman has denied there were any such plans.


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The store's warnings came as the Confederation of British Insdustry (CBI) reported that UK high street sales fell to a 14-month low in May. The study found that 48pc of retailers said volumes fell during the first two weeks of the month, against 30pc who said they improved.

The balance of minus 18pc was compared with an improvement of plus 13pc in March and April, and represented the weakest result since the depths of the recession last March.

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Poor weather at the start of the month hit clothing sales, but the CBI said overall performance was disappointing.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “It's a mixed picture. Retailers which have significant marketing and promotional support will do better because they will be able to catch the public eye. Smaller independents are going to have to work harder to generate the interest of people.

“There is concern over the increase in VAT, but people aren't rushing out in case it does go up. I think there's been a dent in confidence because of the coalition and people are watching and seeing.

“The catalyst for improvement will be certainty. At the moment the government is talking about generalities and not being clear about what cuts and tax increases there will be. Once people know how it will affect them, they will have confidence again.”

Bruce Sturrock, managing director of Palmers, which has department stores in Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Dereham and Bury St Edmunds, said: “We expected another difficult year and that's what's happening. For us it has continued to be an up-and-down year, but the last two weeks haven't been too bad and we're hitting what we did last year.

“Our clothing sales have not done too badly over the last month. It may have been cold at the beginning of the month, but it was dry and sunny.

“Retail is not quite the same as it was. You have to struggle for what you are getting. If there's going to be a change in mood I think it will come after the budget…

“Politics aside, I think people are welcoming a fresh new government getting into doing things, but it's a matter of how those things will affect them, and they won't find out until after the budget.”

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