Promise of a Better Spring Is Fading for Our Economy; FEARS OVER WAR AND HOUSING SLUMP ARE REFLECTED IN HIGH STREET INDICATORS

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Byline: RICHARD ALLEN

A SPRING revival in the economy looks increasingly unlikely as the latest figures show consumer spending is running out of steam.

Retail sales were down by one per cent in January and business investment fell by 1.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Employment levels in London have dropped for 18 successive months, with the City bearing the brunt of the losses. The gloom has been increased by news that a housing market slump may be just around the corner.

London house prices have fallen by more than three per cent in five months. And, as war looms, the tourist industry faces a new crisis.

Here, the Evening Standard lists some of the everyday indicators, from hotel prices to high street sales, to gauge London's economic health.

JANUARY SALES

Eleven out of 41 shops in Jermyn Street still have January sales

Prices are down in more than a quarter of the street's luxury stores five weeks after the sales season traditionally ended. At T M Lewin everything has been half-price since the beginning of November. At John Barry, superfine cotton shirts are down from u89 to u35 or three for u99. Coles has cashmere sweaters, usually u175, at u85. Hawes and Curtis, perhaps disliking the overtones of the term "sale", have a "midseason promotion". Shirtmaker Emma Willis said: "My sale has ended but they all should have done by now. We should all be having lovely spring things in. I've started flying to New York to see my customers like I did in the recession in the 1990s. I've got six or seven big customers out there who are just not flying."

PARKING

Eighty-one out of 124 pay-and-display spaces in St James's Square empty

Heavy traffic in central London was already deterring shoppers from driving into the West End before Christmas.

Now worsening economic conditions seem to have turned some once-popular streets into parking deserts. Two-thirds of spaces in St James's Square were empty on a weekday morning this week compared to a third in December.

Motorist Alex Randford, 34, a quantity surveyor, said: "I've been parking here on and off for five years. A year or so ago you could usually get a space but it was never guaranteed.

"Now it's almost empty. That must be partly because of the congestion charge but it was already pretty quiet before that."

STARBUCKS

Eighteen out of 32 seats at the Regent Street branch of Starbucks empty

It is mid-morning coffee time in the heart of the West End but the background music drowns out the sound of conversation. More than half the chairs are empty just yards from Piccadilly Circus. …

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