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Business briefing: ‘Worst year ever’ for the retail sector as sales sink

RETAILERS have suffered their worst year on record amid ‘dire conditions’ on the high street, new figures show.

Total retail sales — in shops and online — fell by 0.1 per cent overall in 2019, the first decrease since records began a quarter of a century ago.

Weak performance during the usually buoyant festive period contributed to the decline, reveals the latest British Retail Consortium-KPMG retail sales monitor.

‘Last year was the worst since our records began in 1995 and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales,’ BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

‘This was also reflected in the CVAs, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.’ CVAs — or Company Voluntary Arrangements — allow insolvent firms to keep trading.

Ms Dickinson added that ‘political instability’ over the prospects of a no-deal Brexit, concluding in a December general election, ‘weakened demand for the festive period’.

Non-food retail sales fell by 1.4 per cent in the last quarter — worse than the 12-month average decrease of 1.3 per cent. Separate figures from Barclaycard show spending reached just one per cent year-on-year growth in December, as supermarkets saw a downturn of 0.9 per cent.

HIGH streets should have fewer vape sellers and betting shops and more family-run firms, bakers, butchers and market stalls, a poll of 2,000 shoppers has found. More than two-thirds said their local shops had got worse in the past five years as online sales hit bricks-and-mortar stores. But seven in ten see their high street as important and shop there at least twice a week, Nationwide Building Society’s study says.

Greggs staff rolling in it with £7m vegan tip

GREGGS is sharing out the dough with its staff, announcing they would be given a £7million bonus following a ‘phenomenal year’ boosted by sales of its vegan sausage rolls.

The bakery chain’s 19,000 longer-serving workers will receive £300 each, while the 6,000 who joined after March 31 last year will be handed £75 per quarter of service.

Like-for-like sales grew 9.2 per cent in 2019, up from 2.9 per cent the previous year. Greggs hopes to open 100 new shops this year, chief executive Roger Whiteside said.

Ex-Nissan boss: I fled Japan over human rights travesty

Speaking out: Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives for a press conference in Beirut PICTURE: AFP

NISSAN’S fugitive ex-boss Carlos Ghosn claims the conditions of his detention in Japan were a ‘travesty’ of human rights and dignity.

The car-maker’s former chairman, who fled the country last month ahead of his trial for alleged financial misconduct, told a news conference in Beirut he ‘should never have been arrested in the first place’. He said he had faced ‘political persecution’ by a ‘rigged Japanese justice system’.

Continuing to deny the charges against him, Mr Ghosn said his arrest was linked to a fall in Nissan’s finances. He had wanted to merge the company more fully with Renault, of which he was also chairman.

‘Unfortunately there was no trust,’ he said. ‘Some of our Japanese friends thought the only way to get rid of Renault in Nissan is to get rid of me.’

He refused to say how he sneaked out of Tokyo but said wife Carole played no part.

The 5ft 5in runaway is said to have met two men at a hotel, taken a train to Osaka, then boarded a private jet while hidden in a double bass case.

Yesterday, a Lebanese prosecutor said Mr Ghosn was to be summoned over a claim he had violated local law by visiting Israel ten years ago.

Business bites

■ FASTER fibre broadband will be available in even the most rural areas thanks to investment plans set out by Ofcom. The ‘major’ proposals are designed to improve competition against BT’s Openreach, it said.

■ TOPPS Tiles blamed political uncertainty after sales fell 5.4 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 28. But it saw a recovery after the election, with declines slowing to 1.4 per cent in the final five weeks of its first quarter.

■ SIRIUS Minerals is the subject of a £386million takeover bid by Anglo American. Sirius, which aims to build a fertiliser mine in North Yorkshire, confirmed it was in talks with its rival over the 5.5p-a–share offer.

■ SAINSBURY’S saw like-for-like retail sales, excluding fuel, fall 0.7 per cent in the 15 weeks to January 4. The group — which also owns Argos — said a tough toy market offset growth in its groceries arm.

■ RAMSDENS has said it will beat annual profits expectations after ‘strong’ Christmas trading. The pawnbroker and currency exchange firm will also bank an £800,000 profit from scrapping some jewellery stock.