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So how are the January sales for you? Lots of Shoppers seem to be voting with their feet and deserting the High Street in favour of online sales. ‘Why suffer cold and wet feet traipsing in search of bargains when you can stay at home and do it online?’ was the thinking behind another Government-supported attempt to revive our emptying High Streets. First there was the DCLG-sponsored ‘Portas review’, then the ‘Town Team’ competition and the private ‘Grimsey Review’ and now it’s the turn of the ‘Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce’ sponsored by the HM Treasury. You can download it from http://policy.bcsc.org.uk/beyondretail/index.asp

Some Councils like Birkenhead and Rochdale are promoting their High Street Markets as ‘retail differentiators’.

It covers the usual big issues – lack of funding, online sales, fragmented land ownership and parking policy etc and outlines interesting initiatives such as the ‘retail business incubators’ in Wolverhampton and Tamworth. Also how Rotherham provides revenue and capital support for fledgling businesses. Some Councils like Birkenhead and Rochdale are promoting their High Street Markets as ‘retail differentiators’ and there’s a good argument to be had about why this hasn’t happened before. But like the reviews before it this one offers little else but local policy support for SME’s (‘Small and Medium-sized Enterprises’). There’s a nice piccy of Stockport Market Hall and some welcome discussion of ‘provision of mentoring and…social media for independent retailers and small businesses’ but I can’t help thinking the review is still missing the blindingly obvious.

SME’s are less deterred by the cost of rent and rates than the administrative burden of paperwork they encounter as they expand. If HM Treasury is serious about encouraging SME’s as ‘the engine room of the economy’ then it needs to take a long-term approach to relaxing Vat rules, tax thresholds, NI and employment legislation which apply to small businesses. Those costs are outside the control of any independent retailer and a very real disincentive to growth. You can always negotiate your rent downwards with a landlord but just you wait and see what happens when you miss your Vat return. Didn’t David Osborne promise a ‘bonfire of paperwork’ in one of his budget speeches? That’s the way to cure SME’s cold feet.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority created to set MP’s pay and expenses in the aftermath of the expenses scandal proposes to increase MP’s salaries by 11% to £74,000 p.a.in 2015.

Someone else has definitely got cold feet – MP’s. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority created to set MP’s pay and expenses in the aftermath of the expenses scandal proposes to increase MP’s salaries by 11% to £74,000 p.a.in 2015, despite objections by all parliamentary leaders. The best bit is that MP’s have no way of stopping the increase unless they change the law they introduced a couple of years ago. Labour has said ‘any rise in MPs’ pay must be considered in the light of…the cost-of-living crisis facing people across the country’ and the Prime Minister has threatened to abolish IPSA if it force-feeds MP’s with another eight thou. per annum. He didn’t mention anything about HS2 though. Great stuff. I wonder how many will vote in the abolition debate.

Scientists conclude the ‘regulars’ who turn up first always secure the best pitches in the middle.

And finally, some not-so-cold cold feet: German Scientists have discovered how Penguins manage to keep their feet (and the baby Penguins which sit upon them) nice and cosy during a blizzard. A similar problem is shared by many Traders on Open Markets. Apparently the Penguins bunch together and shuffle around in a sort of Mexican wave whilst squawking about the weather and how few fish there are, or whatever. This keeps the ones in the middle toasty warm whilst they struggle not to get shuffled out to the edge. With cold Teutonic logic the scientists conclude the ‘regulars’ who turn up first always secure the best pitches in the middle whilst the ‘casuals’ who can’t be arsed are left with the coldest pitches at the edge. This sounds very familiar and I can’t work out why scientists needed to go to Antarctica to confirm it.

So leave your moonboots at home and train a pair of Penguins to sit on your feet. Or if the Toby objects, then seize the business opportunity and start manufacturing Penguin-lookalike boots.

Keep shuffling. Spring is not that far away.

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