Business going to need to thaw after a damaging cold weather in March

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said that the number of people visiting shops last month was over five per cent  lower than a year ago with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have said that the March freeze could have cost the UK’s small businesses £174m.

It said more than half of small firms admitted that cold weather damaged demand and closed businesses with the £174m it estimated as being collectively lost by small businesses broke down to an average loss of £1,580 per business.

The BRC said that the worst affected regions were the east Midlands and the south west of England, with “footfall” down by over 7 per cent.

High streets across the country on average saw the biggest drop in activity, with visitor numbers down by 7%.

Out of town retailers were the next worst hit, with numbers down by over f per cent and shopping centres, which offer the most protection against the weather, down by nearly 2.5 per cent.

However, there are signs of improvement in the market, as whilst the extended cold snap resulted in lower footfall numbers, last week the BRC said sales for the month were nearly two per cent higher in March than a year ago, a situation it described as “encouraging”.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: “The prolonged cold was the main culprit for deterring shoppers, especially compared against the far milder March of 2012.

“It’s not all bad news: our March sales figures were fairly strong, even if you strip out the data for the Easter weekend which fell earlier this year than in 2012. This suggests that, when people did venture out, they bought things.”

A separate report by Ernst & Young expects the UK economy to expand by 0.6 per cent this year.

In it’s spring forecast the accountancy firm said that the overall economic growth will be led by a modest 1.2 per cent rise in consumer spending, and continuing recovery in the housing market, however there was bad news for exporters as it said that exports would remain weak, as economic woes in the eurozone hit demand from Europe.