By Matthew West
The head of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has urged the government to dramatically reduce the business rate retailers will have to pay in April 2009 in order to save jobs in the industry.
Stephen Robertson, head of the BRC, said declining sales, rental costs and massive discounts were likely combine to mean retail jobs would be under threat in 2009.
Business rates are due to rise by 5 per cent in April next year, based on October's Retail Price index Inflation figures.
But Mr Robertson said the increase could put retail jobs under threat and called on the government to dramatically reduce the rate increase before April.
Mr Robertson said December had been a "poor" month for sales overall.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We had poor sales in October, worse sales in November and retailers were telling me that December started very poorly indeed."
Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested 82 per cent of retailers had begun offering sales or promotions in the run up to Christmas.
Meanwhile retail analyst Experian Footfall said preliminary figures suggested a 12.5 per cent increase in the number of people looking for a bargain on Boxing Day.
But despite yesterday's rush to find a bargain Mr Robertson said retailers were in for a difficult 2009.
"We've seen a triple whammy sales declining, the margins are being crushed by these fabulous promotions that customers are enjoying at the moment but costs are still rising," he said.
Shoppers yesterday flocked to high streets around the country to take advantage of price cuts of up to 90 per cent in certain places.
The call from Mr Robertson follows the collapse of several prominent high street chains including MFI, Woolworths, Whittards and Zavvi, formerly known as Virgin Megastores.