City centre continues to buck the trend
BRISTOL city centre is continuing to buck the trend and is outperforming its rivals in other parts of the country, it has been claimed.
John Hirst, chief executive of business and tourism body Destination Bristol, has revealed that sales across the city centre increased by 1.75 per cent in January, compared to the same period last year.
The small increase has come at a time when other regional cities in the UK have seen sales and numbers of shoppers fall dramatically.
The high street has been one of the hardest hit by recession and a succession of big names including HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops have all been forced to call in the administrators since the start of the new year.
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Destination Bristol is charged with marketing Bristol to visitors and is also responsible for managing parts of the city centre.
The organisation is one of the driving forces behind a campaign which has seen Broadmead shopping centre, the Galleries and Cabot Circus join forces for the first time under the banner of Bristol's Shopping Quarter.
Mr Hirst said: "No one is denying that things are very difficult out there but we are heading in the right direction.
"The high street has been badly hit in recent weeks and everyone is aware of that but in comparison to other major cities in the UK we are actually seeing an increase in the number of shoppers, which has to be seen as a positive thing."
According to the ATCM National High Street Index, one of the most accurate surveys of the high street, footfall across the UK fell by a staggering 26.4 per cent in December. Year-on-year, the number of shoppers on the high street fell by 3.3 per cent.
The South West was the only region in the UK outside of London not to see a fall in the number of shoppers – partly as a result of the performance of Bristol city centre.
Mr Hirst said: "We have been through a very tough year and in the short term it is going to remain that way but I really think there is reason to be optimistic.
"We are in a very good position and when you compare Bristol to other cities we are still performing very strongly."
According to the latest figures, 11 per cent of shops in the city centre are currently standing empty.
Mr Hirst said: "Once again, we are below the national average but 11 per cent is still 11 per cent too many.
"One of my jobs over the course of the year will be to go out into the country to talk to the retailers. We have a great mix of shops in Bristol but we can always be doing more to attract even more big names."
According to accountants Deloitte, people in Bristol and the South West are generally better off than residents in other parts of the UK.
Deloitte South West retail specialist Andrew Jones said: "Consumer spending rose modestly last year, even as the wider economy suffered a double-dip recession.
"Lower inflation, improving credit conditions and rising disposable income are positives for the UK consumer. But the factors which fuelled the consumer boom of the '90s and '00s – steady economic growth, ultra-low inflation, cheap and plentiful credit, and soaring house prices – won't return soon.
"After the biggest consumer recession since the 1930s, UK consumers remain very cautious. It's likely to take another five years for consumer spending just to get back to where it was in 2007. The worst may be past for the consumer, but any comeback will be long and slow."