Seasonal price rises in food, most notably fresh produce have contributed to the rise.The British Retail Consortium's shop price index indicates that prices on the high street increased by 1.02 per cent during March, compared to February. Prices of both food and non-food items increased during March.

The yearly trend indicates that prices increased by 0.44 per cent in March, compared to March 2002.

BRC director general Bill Moyes said: 'The trend in shop prices is again decreasing. Retailers are facing ever-tougher conditions on the high street. They are being squeezed between low sales growth and falling prices. With tightening margins, retailers' ability to invest and create jobs will stagnate. Now is the time for the Chancellor to act. He must use his budget next week to reduce the burdens on retailers and stimulate consumer demand. If he fails to do so, the consequences will be severe and felt, not just in the retail industry but across the entire economy.' Food prices in March rose by 0.77 per cent over the four weeks, and were up 0.83 per cent on those of 12 months previously. Seasonal factors have helped influence price increases in this sector, with the price of fresh tomatoes increasing sharply during March.