Food retailers have provided more work in the second quarter of 2012, despite the first drop in shop numbers in at least three years.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and business law firm Bond Pearce have published the latest statistics from its Retail Employment Monitor (REM), which began in October 2008. It revealed a 0.5% drop in the number of retail outlets compared to last year – a total of 88 fewer shops in the sample.

However, there was a 1.8% boost in the number of hours worked during Q2 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. The BRC attributed this to the food retailing sector, which saw the fastest growth from part-time workers.

The total rise in the number of hours worked was the equivalent of 12,648 more full-time jobs, according to the REM sample.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “Retail as a whole is still where much-needed new jobs are coming from but, within that, it’s food retailing that’s providing more work. Big events like the Jubilee celebrations provided a limited boost to employment levels but underlying weakness in the economy and consumer confidence continue to hit sales and job numbers in non-food retailing. 

“Supermarkets, continuing to open smaller-format stores, are masking the potential of a much sharper decline. Without them, total shop numbers would have fallen further. Even so, retailers’ sentiment about the coming quarter has improved. A year ago a quarter said they would be cutting jobs - now that’s only 4%. And, the relaxation of Sunday trading laws during the Olympics is expected to provide a boost to the number of hours worked over the coming months.”

The REM also indicated businesses were not looking to get rid of jobs or hire new employees, this year, as 83% of the sample said they would keep staffing levels unchanged, compared with 58% last year.

The proportion of retailers suggesting they will decrease staffing levels during the next quarter has fallen to 4%, compared with 25% for the same period last year.

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, head of retail employment at Bond Pearce, said: “At first glance, there are some positive messages here; rising employment which translates to more than 12,000 extra full-time equivalent jobs and redundancy rates remaining very low. 

“Serious concerns remain, however. The number of retail outlets is falling for the first time, reflecting the immense pressure on high street retailers in particular, and for non-food retailers, employment levels are down. It is therefore encouraging to see the government looking at creative ways to bring vacant high street properties back into use and also offering further help to pilot areas under the Portas project.

“It has also been a summer of ups and downs so far with the Jubilee celebrations, the record amount of wet weather and now the build-up to the Olympics all having an impact on the industry. But the reality of the situation may be clouded as a result. It will be very interesting to see what the next quarter brings.”