Retailers pour scorn on official sales data

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The Independent Online

A dispute over the state of the high street broke out yesterday as the British Retail Consortium accused the Office for National Statistics of producing sales figures that "paint an overly rosy picture".

The latest data from the ONS indicated that the value of UK sales grew by 0.7 per cent in October and by an inflation-busting 5.4 per cent from the year before. The Government's official statistics office put the surprise sales rise down to "pre-Christmas sales and in-store promotions", with supermarket wars helping push prices down by 0.4 per cent in October.

However, the British Retail Consortium said the figures underestimated the difficulties retailers are experiencing on the high street. To make matters worse, they implied conditions were improving, when they are actually deteriorating, said the BRC, which has a history of disputing ONS figures.

Stephen Robertson, the BRC's director general, said: "Most retailers won't recognise the overly positive picture being painted by these ONS results. The reality is disposable incomes are down on a year ago and customers are cutting back."

The BRC said its figures for October show that the value of sales grew by 1.5 per cent compared with the year before, meaning customers are buying less taking inflation into account.

A spokesman said: "We've had little spats with the ONS before... and they've been forced to justify their figures."

The ONS declined to respond to BRC's attack, although a spokesman insisted the group stood by its figures.