The British high street is in a “worrying” state, according to the British Retail Consortium, after retail sales last month fell at their fastest for four years.

A new report from the BRC found that same-store sales (which exclude results from outlets open less than twelve months) dipped 0.6% year-on-year in March – the steepest fall since April 1999.

Total sales managed a 2.1% rise compared with March 2002, but this is slower than February’s 3.9% and January’s 6.8%.

“It’s difficult to determine an absolute figure this month, due to the difference in timing of Easter [compared with last year],” declared BRC director general Bill Moyes. “However it’s clear that the trend is moving downwards at a worrying rate.”

Such a slowdown could jeopardise chancellor Gordon Brown’s forecasts of 2% to 2.5% economic growth this year. Continued Moyes: “Retail is vital to the economy and if the trend in high-street sales is not reversed, the chancellor has no hope of achieving his optimistic growth forecasts.”

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff