By Marcus Leach

According to a report released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) there were the equivalent of 3,400 more full-time jobs in UK retail for the first quarter of 2011, compared to the same period last year, a rise of 0.5%.

During the same period the number of outlets grew by 5.3%, an additional 837 shops.

Comparing just March with the same month in 2010, the equivalent number of full-time employees fell by 0.8% reflecting slowing consumer demand but also the seasonal impact of Easter not falling in the same month this year as last. The number of outlets grew by 5.1% compared with the same month in 2010.

The BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor (REM) shows 63% of the sample indicated that they would keep staffing levels unchanged in the next three months.

29% of retailers surveyed said they would decrease staffing levels, compared with 8% this time last year. The results indicate a continued weakening in sentiment. There continues to be a divergence between the employment prospects of different retail sectors - food retailers appearing to be more confident about investing and employing more staff.

"These figures confirm how tough the trading environment is. Retail is still creating more jobs than other sectors but numbers for the quarter rose at their slowest rate since this survey began at the end of 2009," Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.

"Comparing just March with March a year ago, retail employment actually fell. That can partly be attributed to the fact Easter is in April this year, but the difficult retail climate is the key factor and will be for some time to come. Consumer demand is weak and retailers, looking ahead and trying to keep their operating costs down, are less optimistic about future employment.

"Even so, the retail sector generally continues to expand. Retail is the largest private sector employer and, with over a third of its workforce aged under 25, any growth provides important opportunities for the young unemployed who are particularly struggling to find work. A lighter regulatory regime and reduction in financial burdens for retailers remain essential to helping retailers create much-needed jobs."