By Daniel Hunter

For the first time since the BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor began in October 2008 it showed a decline in the number of retail outlets, falling by 0.5% compared with the previous year — 88 fewer shops in the sample.

In the second quarter of 2012, retail employment, effectively total hours worked, rose by 1.8% compared with the same quarter in 2011, the equivalent of 12,648 more full-time jobs according to our sample.

The overall increase was driven entirely by food retailers with the fastest growth from part-time workers. In non-food retailing the total hours worked fell.

The proportion of retailers suggesting that they will decrease staffing levels over the next quarter has fallen to just 4% compared with 25% for the same period last year.

The BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor (REM) indicates that 83% of the sample will keep staffing levels unchanged, compared with 58% last year.

"Retail as a whole is still where much-needed new jobs are coming from but, within that, it's food retailing that's providing more work," Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.

"Big events like the Jubilee celebrations provided a limited boost to employment levels but underlying weakness in the economy and consumer confidence continue to hit sales and job numbers in non-food retailing.

"Overall retail sales growth across the first half of 2012 was no better than a year earlier and the first decline in store numbers among retailers in the survey since it started in October 2008 shows the worst-hit shops being shut as customers hold back spending. Supermarkets, continuing to open smaller-format stores, are masking the potential of a much sharper decline. Without them, total shop numbers would have fallen further.

"Even so, retailers' sentiment about the coming quarter has improved. A year ago a quarter said they would be cutting jobs. Now that's only four per cent. And, the relaxation of Sunday trading laws during the Olympics is expected to provide a boost to the number of hours worked over the coming months."

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, Head of Retail Employment at business law firm Bond Pearce, said: "At first glance, there are some positive messages here; rising employment which translates to more than 12,000 extra full time equivalent jobs and redundancy rates remaining very low.

"Serious concerns remain, however. The number of retail outlets is falling for the first time, reflecting the immense pressure on high street retailers in particular and for non-food retailers, employment levels are down. It is therefore encouraging to see the Government looking at creative ways to bring vacant high street properties back into use and also offering further help to pilot areas under the Portas project.

"Employment intentions have dramatically improved. With 83 per cent planning to keep staffing levels unchanged, compared with just 58 per cent last year, it looks like retailers are hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel. It has also been a summer of ups and downs so far with the Jubilee celebrations, the record amount of wet weather and now the build-up to the Olympics all having an impact on the industry. But the reality of the situation may be clouded as a result. It will be very interesting to see what the next quarter brings."

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