LONDON- British retailers struggled to recover in December from a partial coronavirus lockdown the previous month, marking a weak end to their worst year on record, while public debt has climbed to its highest since 1962, official data showed.
The figures suggest Britain’s economy had little momentum going into 2021.
The government tightened COVID-19 lockdown rules on Jan. 5 to tackle a surge in cases that has kept Britain’s death toll the highest in Europe.
A closely watched business survey released on Monday showed the measures contributed to the sharpest fall in economic activity since May, in addition to headwinds from new paperwork for exports to the European Union.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak faces pressure from some in his Conservative Party to show spending is under control when he presents a new budget on March 3, after what is on track to be the heaviest annual borrowing since World War Two.
Sunak has again promised to put the public finances on “a more sustainable footing” once the economy begins to recover, after Friday’s data showed public borrowing since the start of the financial year in April reached a record 271 billion pounds ($370 billion).
Britain’s Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes rose 0.3 percent in December, far less than economists’ forecasts in a Reuters poll for a 1.2 percent increase, leaving them just 2.9 percent higher than a year earlier.
For 2020 as a whole, retail sales were down 1.9 percent, the biggest calendar-year fall since these records began in 1996. Clothing sales slumped by more than a quarter and spending on fuel dropped by more than a fifth.