06:00 23 April 2022
Town bosses say the cost of living crisis has yet to fully hit Ipswich’s High Street, but they expect it to have a “huge impact” when it does.
On Friday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that retail sales fell 1.4% in March – faster than the 0.5% fall in February – but remain 2.2% above February 2020 pre-Covid levels.
ONS Director of Economic Statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail sales fell notably in March as the rising cost of living hit consumer spending.
“Online sales were particularly hard hit due to lower discretionary spending.
“Fuel sales also fell significantly, with evidence suggesting some people reduced non-essential travel, following record petrol prices, while food sales continued to decline, falling for a fifth. consecutive month.”
Sophie Alexander-Parker, chief executive of Ipswich Central, said: “I think the crisis is going to have a huge impact on the city centre. At the moment it is just in its infancy.
“I think probably in the next three to six months we will see the most real impact.
“It is going to have a detrimental impact on the city center in the months to come as everyone is going to watch the pennies go by.
“We will see fewer people in the city center, we will spend less, and I think that businesses will unfortunately be forced to adapt in the months to come.
“You may find that independents shorten their opening hours. I think you will find that businesses will look to open stores with fewer staff
“There is a risk that you will see businesses closing, potentially.
“I just think it’s too early to pass judgment in terms of impact. At the moment I don’t foresee more vacant units if I’m being honest.”
Ms Alexander-Parker said business owners would be hit with a ‘double whammy’ by the crisis.
She said: ‘Their rising personal costs, rising business costs, and then potential buyers also watch how much they spend on non-essential items.
Andrew Bavington-Barber is the boss of the Hot Sausage Company and a veteran on the high street of Ipswich. Having traded there for 30 years, he has seen recessions come and go.
“I’m not panicking yet,” he said.
“In terms of revenue and footfall on the high street, personally I haven’t noticed a huge difference.
“But I’ve definitely noticed the challenges of the price increases. There’s a lot of pressure on us – it’s difficult.”
Valentine Quinio, an analyst at the Center for Cities think tank, added that Ipswich had so far recovered well from pre-pandemic levels.
She said: “We are not yet seeing the potential impact of the cost of living crisis.
“The only thing we see in the data is that the expense recovery is lower than the footfall recovery. In other words, this tells us that people who go downtown tend to spend less. money than before.”