The director-general of the British Retail Consortium has urged the Bank of England to cut interest rates by up to half a percentage point this week or face a possible wave of job cuts across the high street.

Stephen Robertson, who took over at the BRC two months ago, told The Times that retailers were coming under intense pressure to shelve recruitment plans and training schemes, given the spending slowdown since the new year.

His comments came as Grant Thornton, the accountancy firm, issued figures showing how bad the start to the year was for retailers.

Mr Robertson told the paper: 'The Bank of England should take a quarter-point off rates, and it’s even getting to the stage where a half-point is not unreasonable. If the economy slows down dramatically you have got to realise that one in nine people employed in the UK is employed in retail.

'There’s lots of talk about job cuts at the moment. Every prudent retailer is looking at cost-cutting more seriously than they have done for some time.'

He added: 'A healthy economy is a happy economy and retail sits right at the pivot of that. To boost confidence, we do need to see the gentle stimulus of a rate cut.'

Grant Thornton’s survey showed that of all the retailers on the stock market, 23 per cent issued negative trading statements in the first quarter of the year – more than double the 10 per cent of a year ago.