The year began with the Prime Minister and a number of retail chief executives announcing the good news about how many jobs will be created by big retailers over the coming year. Sainsbury's, for example, claims that it will create 20,000 new jobs over three years, music to the ears of a Prime Minister desperate to show that the private sector will create the jobs he needs for his economic plans to work.

It was, therefore, interesting to see the industry job figures published last week. The picture it paints is of an industry holding its head above water in challenging economic times. However, one-third of the large retailers surveyed are expecting to reduce jobs in 2011. This is a worrying figure and in stark contrast to the ambitious claims from the supermarkets.

It suggests one of two things: supermarkets' job growth will come in large part at the expense of jobs in other parts of the retail sector; or supermarket job claims are wildly optimistic.

It's probably a combination of the two. Not least because by calling supermarkets 'food' retailers we are obscuring their significant shares in non-food retailing such as clothes, entertainment and electrical goods. Overall, we have to assume that supermarket growth plans are primarily about taking away trade from other retailers and therefore the job story may not be as positive as ministers think.

Of course, a successful retail sector will play a major part of any growth and in putting the economy back on track, and there are things government can do to support the sector as a whole.

As ministers consider the right growth strategy for the sector they must listen to all retailers and accept that there are no shortcuts. Failure to do this could result in a strategy for accelerating supermarket growth at the expense of everyone else.

Topics