January's figure, which is measured on a like-for-like basis which compares the same area of selling space, has still not shown a return to the levels of 6 per cent growth recorded last summer. Across the three months between November and January, sales grew by 4.7 per cent, the lowest three-month rate since last spring.
The fortunes of high street shops improved last month, following the weaker than expected Christmas shopping period, according to a report published yesterday. The value of retail sales in January rose by 4.9 per cent on the same month in 1996, and was a marked improvement on the 4.3 per cent annual increase recorded in December. The British Retail Consortium, which compiled the report, said the figures were "reassuring" as they suggested retail sales would underpin economic growth in 1997.