Damp weekend adds to washout on high streets

Sales hit record low as people stay at home and take shelter from the continuing wet weather

Retailers have been hit by the largest drop in consumer spending in 11 months as the effects of the bad weather continue to be felt across the country.

While a new study by Visa highlighted that face-to-face sales on the high street had fallen by 6.9 per cent compared to April last year, people around Britain were facing a battle against the weather.

Two lanes of the M4 were closed for nearly three hours yesterday after emergency service crews reported that a motorcyclist and pillion passenger were blown off their bike near Swindon around midday. The pair were taken to hospital with potentially serious head and neck injuries.

Three people had to be rescued after their yacht broke down in rough seas off the Pembrokeshire coast during the early hours of yesterday morning.

The new figures from Visa's UK expenditure index make glum reading for businesses. They show that consumers stayed at home during the wettest April on record. Household spending fell by 1.9 per cent last month compared to March, one of the largest falls since the height of the financial crisis in 2009, with overall consumer spending down 4.3 per cent year on year, the steepest decline in 11 months. Online spending saw a more gentle decrease, down 0.8 per cent compared to last month.

Visa said the "dismal" weather had had a negative effect on retail sales, but that the rush to the pumps during March's petrol panic, as well as the Royal Wedding last year, would have inflated the previous monthly and year-on-year figures.

The news comes after a bitterly cold Bank Holiday weekend, with temperatures several degrees colder than the average across Britain, particularly in Scotland, and unsettled weather with outbreaks of showers across many other areas. Even some of those who ventured out into the gloom were out of luck – Sunday saw the closure of the Legoland Windsor attraction due to a power failure.

While the weekend proved a disappointment for tourist resorts following a washout throughout April, the weather has been a boon for sales of more wintry items, with sales of umbrellas up 2,580 per cent at Tesco over the last few weeks, while sales of wintry foods such as fresh soup are up 150 per cent.

Morrisons has seen a similar pattern with sales of soup up 54 per cent when the weather was at its worst during April, and sales of cold and flu remedies up 70 per cent.

The south of Britain saw better weather yesterday with temperatures up to 16C, and today is expected to be the best day of the week for many areas according to forecasters, with drier weather and just the odd outbreak of showers.

However, the wet weather will continue later in the week – the Met Office has released severe weather warnings for areas of England and Wales with heavy rain and potential gale force winds expected overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday. The one source of optimism is that the coming weekend is expected to be dry with light winds and some sunshine.

Leading article page 10

This week's forecast

Tom Morgan, a Met Office forecaster, predicts that while today will see unsettled weather in the far north of Scotland with rain and the potential for hill snow, the rest of Britain will see drier spells. Wednesday will see cloud for much of England and Wales, but brighter in northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Wednesday night will bring heavy rain, particularly in the south of England, although it will spread northwards, with the potential for localised flooding. It is set to be unpleasant on Thursday, despite the average temperatures, due to rain, with Scotland set to be cold all week.

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