High street sales figures have revealed a better-than-expected rise of 2.1 per cent last month, but the result came after a sharp revision down for January.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed figures for January were much worse than originally thought, with sales volumes down by 3 per cent against the initial estimation of a 1.8 per cent decline.

While the rise in February sales volumes beat market forecasts, the year-on-year increase of 3.5 per cent was far lower than experts had predicted.

The January revision meant that the retail sector suffered its worse sales performance in a year and a half during the month.

Sales bounced back in February as the weather improved and consumers made up for a lack of spending in January.

ONS figures showed that by value, sales rose by the highest amount since the summer of 2008, up 1.9 per cent month-on-month and by 4.9 per cent on a year earlier.

Sales growth in non-food stores far outstripped performance in the food sector, up 8.4 per cent by volume on a year ago against 0.5 per cent in food.

Jim Quantrill, retail and wholesale director at Barclays Corporate in the Midlands, said there was still reason to be cautious despite the encouraging numbers.

He said: “February’s figures confirm that things are back on-track for the retail sector following the larger than expected declines of January. Although overall the market remains flat, it has moved in the right direction.

“Retailers will have breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as Alastair Darling kept promises to not increase VAT in his pre-election budget. However, they remain cautious, prepared for an increase from the current level of 17.5 per cent following the election.

“The end of Christmas’ cold period and hints of spring will have helped sales numbers, as new seasonal products moved off the shelves. However, the snow and cold felt in February 2009 impeded sales which would conversely have bolstered the year on year growth seen in today’s figures.”