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UK employment remains resilient but will this also ring true for retailers?

A new report by the REC and KPMG shows a small rise in permanent jobs in May, but at the slowest growth rate of the last five months. By Gavin Matthews, head of retail at Bond Pearce.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

UK employment remains resilient but will this also ring true for retailers?

A new report by the REC and KPMG shows a small rise in permanent jobs in May, but at the slowest growth rate of the last five months. By Gavin Matthews, head of retail at Bond Pearce.

This research would suggest a cautious optimism but it remains to be seen whether more high street casualties and difficult conditions have also seen this reflected in the retail sector.

Retail employers' intentions were positive in the most recent BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor back in April. 71% of the retail employers sampled at the time said they would keep staffing levels unchanged, compared with 54% last year. And the proportion of retailers indicating they would decrease staffing levels fell to 8% compared with 29% last April.

This had marked a significant improvement in employment intentions, the first since the Monitor started in October 2008. But how will this have played out over the last few months with yet more well-publicised failures?

It will be interesting to see how retail employment has fared over the last few months in our next report in August. We could already see a polarised view of the sector with a stark divide between those who are surviving and even growing and those that have become casualties of the market and this may well still be the case. The positive change in attitude towards staffing levels by retailers had given us cause for cautious optimism but the eurocrisis and double dip recession will have tested even those who were doing comparatively well.

Retailers must continue to adapt and evolve in order to survive in these tough conditions, average earnings are still falling behind inflation, and this will shape consumer behaviour for some time to come. However, redundancy figures were relatively low and if these latest surveys are also reflected in the retail sector, the largest employer in the private sector, then a significant number of retailers may be still be managing to keep the wolf from the door.

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