SIGNS OF LIFE AFTER SHOPPERS RETURN

LONDON’S retailers were handed a welcome boost over the weekend as shoppers flocked back to stores, though figures released today show Britain’s high streets have seen their worst monthly sales in almost a year.

Footfall picked up in the second half of last week and over the weekend, with the capital’s retailers reporting a leap in numbers, but the brief respite is unlikely to make up for a dismal set of economic figures released today, with the retail, manufacturing and construction industries all reporting disappointing trading.

Mid-tier stores saw a 2.9 per cent year-on-year fall in sales during July – their biggest hit since October 2011 – according to accountancy firm BDO. The final week of the month saw a far worse fall amid warnings of Olympic travel chaos in the capital, with sales in the week to 29 July falling 8.4 per cent on the same period last year.

Elsewhere, output from Britain’s smaller manufacturers fell for the first time in two and a half years last quarter, while sentiment deteriorated further. A net five per cent of small- to medium-sized manufacturers reported falling output, while firms’ optimism about their general health dropped to a net balance of -13 per cent, reversing a sharp rise to +22 in the previous quarter, according to figures published today by the CBI.

Construction output also fell over the period, with the industry seeing sharp declines in workloads and new orders, according to the latest survey from the Construction Products Association (CPA). The drop is the fourth in the past five quarters.

The CPA’s economics director Noble Francis said “the position for construction in the UK is now looking very bleak indeed”.

Gloomy retailers said last week that warnings over London’s transport network were keeping shoppers away, with the New West End Company demanding Transport for London (TfL) tone down messages about disruption as it launched a campaign to attract customers back to the West End. John Lewis said its flagship Oxford Street store had seen an 8.7 per cent decline in sales in the week to 28 July.

However, TfL and BDO said there are reasons for optimism in the coming weeks. TfL reported a 27 per cent increase in people using Tube stations in the area at the end of last week and business group Heart of London said footfall and sales jumped over the weekend. Between 30 July and 2 August footfall was up 11.6 per cent on the previous week and 16.2 per cent up on the same week in 2011, according to the latest figures.

BDO said previous Games had also seen dips at the start of proceedings before shoppers began to flood the streets. It said conditions looked similar to Sydney during the 2000 Games, with the Olympics lifting confidence among the city’s shoppers after a sluggish start.

Visitors from the Middle East are also expected to provide a boost to the area as they flock to the capital when Ramadan finishes on 18 August.