News-celebration

It’s time to celebrate – the recession is over!

Official government figures confirm the UK economy grew faster than expected in 2013 and at the fastest rate since the 2007 financial crisis.

Economic growth for 2013 was 1.9% – a vast improvement over 0.3% seen in 2012. At this rate UK plc may be able to claw itself back up to the size it was before the crisis – just in time for the May 2015 general election. So is this all good news? Well maybe for London and the UK as a whole but maybe not so for small businesses and provincial towns.

Firstly, the Bank of England has kept it’s base interest rate down to 0.5% for the last 5 years but might not do so for much longer. Business loans and mortgage rates may become expensive which is bad news for small businesses and consumers.

Markets are a good indicator of a local economy what is still glaringly apparent is the contrast between London (‘Recession- what recession?’) and the economy in the rest of the country.

Secondly, the vast majority of economic growth has been in London and the South East. Given that Markets are a good indicator of a local economy what is still glaringly apparent is the contrast between London (‘Recession- what recession?’) and the economy in the rest of the country. Anyone staring at empty stalls and boarded-up shops along the High Street in Mudford-on-Sea is bound to consider throwing in the towel and heading for the bright lights. Some economists have even suggested the economy is now so ‘Metrocentric’ that anything outside the South East is almost ignored by a Parliament which sits in London.

OK – Birmingham, Manchester Liverpool and Leeds may show ‘green shoots of recovery’ but what about the medium to small towns outside the metropolitan areas? A recent report: ‘Cities Outlook 2014’ prepared by research organisation ‘Centre for Cities’ suggests London is sucking in provincial talent and ideas faster than ever. You can download a copy from www.centreforcities.org. As a result the London residential property market is rocketing and has become unaffordable for first-time buyers whilst perfectly good £70k terraced homes in the provinces stand empty. The decision by Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney to withdraw mortgage support for first-time buyers may stop the London housing market from overheating but does nothing for Mudford.

This is not good news for (A) Londoners faced with a sky-high cost of living and accommodation and (B) the rest of the country emptied of talent and investment. The report contains some startling figures about so-called internal immigration into London, let alone external immigration into London from the rest of the EU. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee also pointed out the experience of Spain that HS2-type high speed rail accelerates the problem.

A lady stallholder in Mudford has suggested a solution. She proposes a return to ‘government by itineration’ i.e. Parliament travels the country and sits in the provinces for six months of the year, rather like the Monarch did in the Middle Ages. A couple of weeks in Mudford would be welcomed by her and other local businesses – even more so if the £80 billion HS2 budget was diverted to improving infrastructure within the town, not leading out of it.

Despite the vitality of London one of the saddest sights you’ll still see are the ‘skipdivers’ who appear at closing time, scavenging for unsold stock. Unfortunately it’s still a common sight so it was interesting to see the CPS do a U-turn on an intended prosecution last month.

North London squat-dwellers Paul May, Jason Chan and William James were arrested after rummaging through the bins at the back of an Iceland foodstore in Kentish Town, North London. The Crown Prosecution Service intended to prosecute them under the 1824 Vagrancy Act but the Iceland Chief Executive swiftly stepped-in and asked for the case to be dropped because ‘the Company had not sought a prosecution’.

This quick-thinking avoided awkward publicity about why so much food was being skipped and a potential PR train crash for Iceland. But it also left unanswered some interesting legal issues, e.g. are you ‘stealing’ something when it ‘s already been dumped as waste? A successful prosecution would have been bad news for Private Investigators who specialise in juicy scandals scavenged from household bin bags.

A staggering six million tonnes (£10 billion!) of food is still binned by consumers every year because it is ‘out of date’.

The case also highlighted how UK food retailers and consumers remain amazingly wasteful. Some foodstores do donate unsellable short shelf-life products to food banks and homeless charities but a staggering six million tonnes (£10 billion!) of food is still binned by consumers every year because it is ‘out of date’. Shoppers don’t understand the difference between the statutory ‘Use-by’ date and the retailers ‘Sell-by’ or ‘Best-until’ dates. Unsellable short-dated stock gets skipped by retailers so into the Iceland bins went £33-worth of mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes, only to be snaffled by Paul, Jason and Bill.

Given that it was intended for landfill you can’t help sympathising with them, but it wasn’t terribly bright to scale a wall near a Police station at midnight and trespass on private property. That’s a bit different to skipdiving through the bins on Mudford Market.

Paul May said he was anything but ashamed at sharing discarded food with his housemates. ‘It’s more morally questionable they throw away usable food than how people recover it’ he said. ‘In some ways I’m proud of what we do.’ Recovering food from skips allows him and his ‘Freegan’ chums to eat more healthily than buying food on a low income and they regularly recover large quantities of frozen chicken breasts and the like. The previous week they’d even enjoyed a luxurious quail supper.

A spokesperson for the CPS said ‘We have paid particular regard to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the level of harm done. Both of these factors weigh against a prosecution. Additionally, further representations received today from Iceland Foods have affected our assessment of the public interest in prosecuting.’

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