By Daniel Hunter

Retail employment rose by 1.8% in the first quarter of 2013 compared with a year earlier, driven entirely by part-time workers and predominantly in food retailers.

In the first quarter of 2013, the number of outlets rose by 1.4%, having fallen in the previous quarter. In March, there were 253 more stores in our sample compared with March last year, driven entirely by food retailers. Four in five retailers intend to increase or keep staffing levels unchanged in the next three months.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "It's encouraging to see that store numbers have edged up a little and employment has also risen slightly, predominantly driven by part-time workers.

"But, looking behind the headlines reveals wide variations across the sector, as growth is coming almost entirely from food retailers while non-food has seen levels dip both for employment and store numbers. The retail administrations of recent months have also filtered through to the figures, pushing sector redundancy rates up to the highest level since the Monitor began at the height of the recession in October 2008.

"In light of last week's unemployment figures, it's reassuring to see that the retail sector is bucking the general trend and continuing to invest in people and communities. But we'd like to see this growth spread more widely across the sector rather than the current ‘tale of two halves' presented in this quarter."

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, Head of Retail Employment at business law firm Bond Pearce, said: "The retail sector has had a challenging start to the year with some notable high street failures and consumer confidence concerns for some retailers. However, against a back drop where UK employment figures have fallen for the first time in 16 months, retail employment has risen by 1.8% compared with the same quarter last year.

"Despite this positive note, the polarisation of the retail sector continues, with food retailers accounting for most of the rise in employment and all of the 253 extra stores. There are clear concerns for the sector as a whole with redundancy figures up to the highest levels since the research began in 2008 and surprisingly there was no sign of increased recruitment to cover the Easter period.

"However, 80 per cent of retailers are planning to keep staff levels the same or raise them in next three months, which offers some hope for the near future."

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