Retail sales down in March

Retail sales fell 1.7% in March 2011 compared with the same month last year, according to new data released by the Central Statistics Office today.

Excluding sales in the motor trade, the volume of retail sales decreased by 3.5% year on year.

The biggest falls were in the areas of fuel, furniture and lighting.

On a monthly basis, retail sales volume increased by 0.1% on February 2011.

Reacting to the figures, small business group ISME said the retail sector was in a "distressed" state, warning that thousands of jobs will continue to be at risk unless serious action is taken.

“Today’s figures confirm that retail sales volumes are down almost 25% since 2007, with the sector facing ‘meltdown’ unless the Government recognise the valuable contribution that retail makes to the economy," said ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding.

"It is high time that the Government introduced policies to support one of the most significant contributors to the economy," he added.

"We need the immediate formation of a Retail Strategy Group to address the risks to the sector and the Government to implement immediate policies to tackle the cost base."

Retail Ireland, the IBEC group that represents the retail sector, said that the figures "give cause for concern".

"Core retail sales have fallen for the entire first quarter of 2011, having declined for the previous three years," Retail Ireland director Torlach Denihan said.

"There is no evidence of a turnaround yet."

Mr Denihan reiterated that action is needed to preserve retail jobs in the retail sector, including abolition of Joint Labour Committee (JLC) pay scales grocery sector, legislation to remove upward-only rent reviews in existing leases and reductions in commercial rates by local authorities.

"Pay rules for the retail grocery sector are destroying jobs and are unnecessary because of the national minimum wage," he said.

"The ongoing review of these rules must lead to a major overhaul of the current system."

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