The High Street is still suffering flat sales and risings costs, as consumers continue to tighten their belts.

Shop and store sales during February rose 0.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis against a weak February 2005, the British Retail Consortium reported yesterday.

The three-month trend rate of growth weakened to 0.9 per cent from 1.1 per cent in January for like-for-like sales, but rose to 4.2 per cent from 3.6 per cent for total sales.

This, according to the BRC, reflected the continued growth of retail space.

Spring/summer ranges had a slow start, with footfall down and consumers often still in a winter mindset. Also, with consumer confidence still weak amid concerns about personal finances, shoppers remain wary of committing to larger housing-related purchases.

However, clothing and footwear showed some uplift in the final week, but were still difficult overall. Food sales improved, helped by Valentine's Day, after a flat January.

Kevin Hawkins, director general of the BRC said: "These results underline yet again the continuing squeeze on consumer spending and, contrary to the Bank of England's expectations, there is no sign of an upturn.

"Reports of a recovery in the housing market have yet to work through to the big-ticket product categories, which have been depressed for the past 15 months.

"Meanwhile the industry's fixed cost base continues to rise well above the general rate of inflation. Shop price inflation, in contrast, remains around zero."

The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee announces its latest monthly decision on Thursday, with most expecting rates to stay on hold.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail for KPMG said: "The like-for-like figure of 0.6 per cent represents the fourth consecutive month of like-for-like growth, a trend not seen since October 2004.

"However, it comes on the back of weak figures in February 2005 and hence is no cause for celebration.

"It is also worth bearing in mind that retailers face a cost base that is rising faster than the sales line.

"Therefore, if retailers are continuing to struggle, this should send out an even starker warning for the health of their suppliers who will find the going even tougher as retailers look to make further cuts to their supplier cost base."