For politicos, pundits and number crunchers, yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review was a dream.

For those who’ll lose jobs, services and benefits, it was more like a nightmare. And for our sector… well, we just don’t know yet.

Yesterday’s unprecedented wielding of the axe is certainly a gamble.

Ocado chief exec Tim Steiner, Asda’s Andy Bond and Paul Walsh of Diageo were this week among the signatories to a letter urging George Osborne to hold his nerve and cut deep.

But that view is not unanimous. Wholesalers worry cutbacks to HMRC might hit the fight against duty fraud. As we reported back in August, suppliers fear the austerity measures are already pushing the country towards a dreaded double-dip.

On the retail side, indie greengrocer Stokes yesterday became the latest to feel administration’s icy grip. And there’s exclusive news of another major administration in the trade in the upcoming edition of The Grocer.

Charlie Bean, the Bank of England’s aptly named deputy governor, is counting on shoppers spending their way out of the downturn for the good of the country.

But new figures from the Office of National Statistics show that despite talk of food shoppers’ return to premium, elsewhere on the high street punters are reluctant to splash the cash.

“Who can blame them in an economic climate that is more uncertain than any in living memory?” asks TLC Marketing analyst Gemma Lovelock, who calls the figures “a big setback for the government”.

Across all retail, September volumes were down slightly on the month before. Although volumes were up 0.5% on September 2009, that was just half the 1% improvement most analysts had forecast.

And while food sales by value were up 1.7% on September 2009, volumes were down 2.3%.

Lovelock adds: “While there may be a slight pick-up in advance of Christmas and on until the January sales, we expect the high street to remain febrile – all the more so in light of the impending rise in VAT.”

It could be a long winter.

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