‘Shoppers spending again’

A South Yorkshire retail expert says figures showing an increase in the volume of sales will be a welcome boost for retailers lafter a slow Christmas period - but concerns remain about the number of empty shops in South Yorkshire.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics reveal an overall growth in the volume of retail sales – by 1.9 per cent in January 2011 compared to December 2010, and by 5.3 per cent compared with January last year.

Andrew Hulse, a Senior Manager in Assurance at Grant Thornton in Sheffield, says retailers will be relieved to see shoppers spending again.

He said: “The increase in sales in January will bring a welcome relief for retailers after a difficult December, which was impacted by very poor weather conditions.

“However, there are concerns that this increase may be due more to post-Christmas discounting and promotions by retailers, as well as the rush in early January to beat the VAT increase, than an actual increase in consumer spending on the high street.”

Hulse is also concerned that retail sales in South Yorkshire will have been impacted by the high numbers of empty retail units on the high-street, after a recent report by the Local Data Company named Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster among the ten hardest hit larger retail areas in the UK.

The report found that Rotherham has the UK’s worst retail vacancy rate, with 28 per cent of shops currently empty. This is closely followed by Sheffield, with 27 per cent void, with Doncaster the eighth hardest hit, 25 per cent void. Leeds was also high on the list for void rates, with 22 per cent of its shops currently standing empty.

Hulse added: “In South Yorkshire the retail picture is likely to be more mixed than the national increase, as retailers on the high street will have been impacted by the large numbers of empty shops.

“Further afield, Leeds can take heart with the continuing redevelopment of their city centre - two large projects are now underway - compared to Sheffield where progress on Sevenstone seems slow in comparison.

“Having spoken to a number of retailers it is clear that despite the brighter January, the first two weeks of February have been very poor. February is a notoriously dead month for the retail industry and it will become clear at the March Quarter Day who the real sufferers of this downturn are.”