6:00 AM April 23, 2022

Town bosses say the cost-of-living crisis has not yet fully hit Ipswich 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 had fallen by 1.4% in March – faster than the 0.5% drop in February – but they remain 2.2% above pre-Covid levels of February 2020.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail sales fell back notably in March, with rises in the cost of living hitting consumers’ spending.

“Online sales were hit particularly hard due to lower levels of discretionary spending.

“Fuel sales also fell substantially, with evidence suggesting some people reduced non-essential journeys, following record-high petrol prices, while food sales continued to fall, dropping for the 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 town centre. At the moment it’s in its early stages.

Sophie Alexander-Parker

Sophie Alexander-Parker

– Credit: Simply C Photography

“I think probably in the next three to six months we’ll see the truer impact.

“It’s going to have a detrimental impact on the town centre in the coming months because everybody’s going to be watching the pennies moving forward.

“We’re going to see fewer people in the town centre, we’re going to see less spend, and I think businesses will, unfortunately, be forced to adapt in the coming months.

“You might find independents shorten their opening hours. I think you’ll find that businesses will look to open stores with fewer staff

“There is a risk that you’re going to see the closure of businesses, potentially.

“I just think it’s too early to make that judgement call in terms of the impact. At the moment I’m not foreseeing more vacant units if I’m honest.”

Ms Alexander-Parker said business owners would be hit with a “double-whammy” by the crisis.

She said: “Their personal rising costs, their business’s rising costs, and then potential shoppers are also watching how much they spend on the items which are not essential.”

Andrew Bavington-Barber is the boss of the Hot Sausage Company and a veteran of Ipswich high street. Having traded there for 30 years, he has seen recessions come and go.

Andrew Babington-Barber from the Hot Sausage Co

Andrew Babington-Barber from the Hot Sausage Co

– Credit: Archant

“I’m not panicking yet,” he said.

“When it comes to takings and footfall on the high street, personally I haven’t noticed a huge amount of difference.

“But I’ve definitely noticed the challenges of the increased prices. There’s a lot of pressure on us – it’s difficult.”

Valentine Quinio, an analyst at the Centre for Cities think-tank, added that Ipswich has so far recovered well compared to its pre-pandemic levels.

She said: “We’re not yet seeing the potential impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

“The one thing we see in the data is that the spend recovery is lower than the footfall recovery. To put it differently, that tells us that the people who go to the town centre tend to spend less money than before.”