Weather to rival records dumping on Britain's parade

By Jonathan Brown

In 1976, Denis Howell had been in his job as minister for drought for three days when the inevitable happened.

After weeks in which Britain had been slowly sauteed, while those workers who were not on strike were issued with salt tablets to stop them dehydrating and standpipes were set up in the streets, it began to pour.

No such luck for Caroline Spelman, who is rapidly becoming Prime Minister David Cameron's minister for rain.

The Environment Secretary has been meeting flood victims in the southwest and on Sunday was given a briefing by experts at the Met Office. The outlook is not good.

After the wettest June on record, Britain is on course to challenge the summer of 1912, when 384.4mm of rain fell to make it the soggiest on record.

The good news for Spelman, who has already announced a further £2 billion ($3.9 billion) to boost flood defences, is that there is still some way to go before 2012 rivals 1816 - the notorious "year without a summer". Then, before the advent of reliable data, summer frosts and 142 days of near continuous rain between May and September led to hunger and rioting.

If some longer-term forecasts are to be believed, the current spate of Atlantic lows are expected to keep sweeping over Britons until the end of the month, doing to the Olympics what they have already done to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Already, it seems the rain might be dampening more than the Jubilee feelgood factor which the Government had hoped might help the country ride out the double-dip recession.

The British Retail Consortium yesterday said the four-day jubilee bank holiday weekend blowout helped retailers keep their heads above water - but only just. Like-for-like sales during the first half of 2012 grew only 0.8 per cent on the previous year.

While sales of party food, alcohol, televisions and tablet devices were buoyant, barbecues, gardening equipment, outdoor furniture and summer clothing all suffered.

The one bright point was the continued growth in online sales, which rose 12 per cent as customers chose to stay dry and do their shopping indoors. BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "Sadly the soggy celebrations over the Jubilee weekend itself, which heralded the start of the wettest June on record, were followed by far weaker business for the rest of the month."

By contrast Dunelm, the leading UK specialist homeware retailer, estimated it had benefited to the tune of £8 million from the weather during the last quarter, which included the wettest April for more than 100 years, as consumers chose to concentrate their time and spending indoors.

The full impact will only begin to be seen later this month, with the release of the second quarter's GDP figures, which will take in April and June.

In the meantime, there are indications that key sectors are being hit. Farmers in Yorkshire estimate they have seen the worst growing conditions in nearly three decades.

Phil Bicknell, chief economist of the National Farmers Union, said harvests could be delayed by up to two weeks and that cold temperatures and low light levels could hurt growers.

WET WINNERS
* Slug pellet producers: B&Q reported a 74 per cent rise as gardeners battle a slug plague.
* Makers of "mood-boosting" supplements: Sales of St John's Wort rose by 115 per cent last month compared with June 2011.
* Umbrella makers: Timpson Group reported a 47 per cent increase.
* Proud car owners: They can begin washing their vehicles again after the last hosepipe bans were lifted.

- Independent

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