David Prosser: Santa set to miss out the High Street

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The Independent Online

Outlook: As further evidence about the performance of retailers in the run-up to Christmas dribbles in, it is still almost impossible to work out whether or not they have enjoyed a decent festive season (all the more important this time since the new year looks tough for the High Street).

Some stores say they are booming, but a more common message is that retailers are expecting a late rush. Many have already begun plugging post- Christmas sales – Tesco begins its sale tonight, online at least.

The freezing weather of the past four or five days is widely blamed for the poor footfall figures reported in many outlets. No doubt that is part of the story. But what if shoppers never intended to spend big this year, even had they not found themselves snowed in?

Yesterday's lending figures from the British Bankers' Association suggest a seismic change of attitude amongst households up and down the country. Having spent years racking up debt, Britons have begun cutting back. Last month alone, the BBA says, we paid back £300m more than we borrowed.

Nor is our spare cash going only on paying off debt. The ONS's revision to the third quarter GDP figures, published on Tuesday, included data showing that the savings ratio rose to 8.6 per cent in October, the highest level for more than a decade (it was negative only a year ago).

A clear picture is now emerging. Mindful of the higher risk of unemployment and tax rises to come, Britons have put themselves on an austerity drive. That's highly commendable, of course, but hardly conducive to the sort of "jingle tills" headlines we have seen in previous years. And snow has nothing to do with retailers' disappointment.

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