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Surprise retail boost raises economic hopes

Hopes are high that an unexpected rise in UK retail sales last month have been reflected on Northern Ireland's high streets.

A glut of promotions on petrol and high levels of discounting in shops helped drive a surprise rise in retail sales in July across the UK

Retail sales volumes rose 0.3% between June and July, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, defying expectations of a 0.1% fall.

And the figure for June was revised significantly higher to 0.8% from a previous estimate of 0.1% after additional information was received from retailers.

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said that he hoped Northern Ireland could bask in the reflected glow of the UK figures.

"Anecdotally there does seem to have been an increase in footfall in town and city centres but footfall is not an accurate indicator of sales," he said.

"We would like to think that if the UK has seen a rise in retail sales, that it will be reflected in Northern Ireland."

"We are still in tough times, people are just not spending, there are huge pressures on disposable incomes, particularly in working families, certainly any increases in London and the south of England could be down to Olympics and it will remain to be seen whether we will benefit from the bounce."

Graeme MacLaughlin, relationship director at Barclays in Northern Ireland said that more firms were looking abroad to target sales.

"It will be some comfort to retailers consumers are still spending," he said.

"As the sector struggles to find sustained growth at home, more and more are looking to expand overseas. Even smaller retailers are starting to spread their wings internationally with the help of the internet".

The period covered the first two days of the Olympics but the ONS said this had no noticeable impact on sales.

Meanwhile, there was welcome news for consumers after the ONS said shop price inflation slowed to 0.2% in July, its lowest rate since October 2009.

Economists had feared that sales volumes would be weaker in July as retailers had been forced to bring traditional summer sales forward amid the wash-out start to the summer.

But the figures suggest that continued discounting and improved weather in the second half of July helped boost trade.