More UK retailers are reporting that sales are falling rather than growing, for the first time since November 2006, according to the CBI.

In the first half of February, 36 per cent of retailers said their sales were down compared with 34 per cent who said sales had grown.

The CBI figures confirm retailers’ foreboding about the deteriorating trade in the sector, as consumers tighten their purse strings because of rising inflation, stagnating house prices and soaring household bills.

CBI chief economic advisor Ian McCafferty said: “The high street has been slowing gradually since last April and sales earlier this month were very subdued, while prices have risen strongly.”

Sectors linked to the housing market suffered the most. Sales volumes fell sharply for retailers of durable household goods – balance of -70 per cent.

Despite the bearish outlook for the sector, 50 per cent of respondents said the price of goods in the year to February rose – the fastest rate in more than a decade – as many retailers felt the pressures of rising energy, food and raw material costs. A similar rate of price increase is expected next month.