The interest rate has been held at 5.25 per cent by the Bank of England.

The decision, although widely expected, means that retailers are likely to remain under pressure as shoppers keep a tight grip on spending.

Last month, the Bank cut rates by a quarter point, but worries about inflation made another reduction unlikely. Food and energy prices have risen in recent months and higher business costs have fuelled inflation in the manufacturing and services sectors.

BRC director-general said: "We appreciate that the Bank of England felt its hands were tied this month, given its fears over inflation, and so left rates on hold.

"But each new indicator confirms the economy is slowing. As interest rate cuts take several months to take effect, the Bank needs to take action sooner rather than later to ensure the slowdown doesn't turn into something more serious."