By Daniel Hunter

Retail employment rose by 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with a year earlier, driven entirely by part-time workers, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

In fourth quarter 2012, the number of outlets fell 3.6%, the fastest rate since the Monitor started in October 2008. In December, there were 573 fewer stores in our sample compared with last year. Half of retailers suggested that they would decrease staffing levels in the first quarter of 2013 compared with just a third at the same time last year.

"The fact that total employment edged up during this quarter, driven by part-time workers, is a shaft of light against an otherwise challenging backdrop. It shows that, despite relentlessly tough times, retailers are continuing to invest in people and support job creation as much as they can," Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.

"But the record drop in store numbers is stark evidence that this investment should not be taken for granted. We're by no means out of the woods yet - given the administrations of recent weeks, the next quarter's figures are likely to make difficult reading.

"Half our sample intend to decrease staffing levels during the first quarter of this year and only four per cent plan to increase them. This trend is to be expected at this time of year due to reductions in temporary seasonal staff, but the rate is higher compared with last year and further highlights testing times still to come.

"Supporting retail sector investment and employment is essential to economic recovery. The Government can help by freezing business rates in April."

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, Head of Retail Employment at business law firm Bond Pearce, said: "After a lacklustre Christmas, the New Year has started badly for retailers; well publicised failures such as HMV, Jessops and Blockbusters have yet again placed the spotlight on the struggling high street. This will have an even greater impact on store numbers that are already falling at the fastest rate for over four years.

"Employment figures may have risen slightly last quarter, due to temporary seasonal staff, but employment intentions for the next three months reflect the stark reality with half of retailers intending to cut staff. It is hard to believe that retail employment will remain robust for long under such pressure but at present retail redundancy rates are still low and private sector job creation continues to outstrip public sector losses.

"With economists claiming that more companies will fail before the UK economy can begin to recover, retailers must continue to adapt to the harsh market conditions and hope that their strategies for survival, and even growth, will stand them in good stead."

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