Sales at UK clothing retailers in February fell at their fastest pace in nearly three years, a survey showed today (28 February) as shoppers focus their spending on essential items like food.

Overall, retail sales volumes in the first half of February were little changed from last year according to the latest distributive trades survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), but were better than expected.

It also revealed retailers reported a sales balance of -2% on January, although this was an improvement on the -22% seen in last month's survey.

Clothing retailers reported a balance of -41%, the lowest figure since March 2009. Department store sales also fell at their fastest pace since May 2010.

"Consumers are clearly continuing to focus their spending on day-to-day needs, rather than big ticket or luxury items," said  Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel and ASDA chief operating officer.

"With disposable incomes under constant pressure, retailers remain concerned about the general business outlook for the rest of 2012."

Looking ahead, retailers expect the volume of sales to remain broadly flat in March (+2%), while a balance of -12% of retailers remain concerned about the longer term outlook over the next three months.

Separately, a survey showed British consumer confidence down at levels last seen in the wake of the 2008 recession for the final quarter of 2011.

The biggest concerns over the next six months were the economy, increasing utility bills, job security and debt, according to the consumer confidence survey from Nielsen and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

With the downturn now deeper than expected and the recovery slower, the proportion of shoppers believing Britain will be out of 'recession' in the next 12 months remains at only 11%.

"Retailers continue to battle fiercely with each other for scarce consumer spending," said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

"As these figures show, people's concerns over both their personal finances and the economic health of the country mean they're more inclined to save any spare cash they have. Shops are offering high levels of discounting as household budgets continue to feel the pressure of transport and utility bills."