At last a 21st century rallying cry to which Brits can respond with enthusiasm: ‘Shop, shop, shop for Queen and Country!’

In response to the clarion call to the economic battlements, the nation patriotically shopped its way through the run-up to Christmas – and is set to continue doing so well into the new year, say forecasters.

According to the Martin Hamblin GfK consumer sentiment monitor for December, Britons are more optimistic about employment, personal finance and the general economic outlook than at any time since the atrocities of September 11.

The GfK headline consumer confidence index rose in December for the second consecutive month, gaining two points to minus 1, leading analysts to predict further gains through January.

Positive economic expectations leapt 8 points to minus 18, the highest since July, even though 59% of respondents believe job losses will widen in 2002. Britons' confidence about their personal finances also remained robust, rising three points to a rating of +12, one point higher year-on-year.

Retailers too are reporting a spending boom across the country, with Thursday’s monthly Confederation of British Industry snapshot of the UK high street indicating continued growth. This follows the rise in November retail sales to their highest level since the boom of the late 80s.

Confidence and spending levels are underpinned by the nation’s 37-year low in interest rates, a doubled-edged sword which has eroded not only the cost of borrowing but also the interest earned on savings.

The latter, reports GfK, has taken a heavy knock, with consumer recognition of the benefits of saving slumping to minus 8 - its lowest point since the nadir of April 1994 and matching the lowest rating since the monthly survey was launched in 1982.

News source: The Times (London)