Tag Archives: George Osborne

 

Back in November the Chancellor, George Osborne was feeling quite flush after the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) forecast he’d have a windfall £27 billion to spend over the next 5 years.

George used it to avoid cuts in tax credits and stave off a threatened rebellion amongst Conservative backbenchers. But four months later the OBR had downgraded it’s forecast because the world economy isn’t growing as fast as expected. So having spent it already George had no alternative but to announce .5% p.a. cuts off the government spend (currently £750 billion p.a.) That way he does at least have a chance to meet his commitment of eliminating the fiscal deficit (difference between tax income and expenditure) by 2020. However, government spending is projected to rise to £850 billion p.a. by 2020 so that represents some £4.25 billion of cuts in that year alone which is a lot of noodles. And everyone is carefully ignoring the elephant in the room – the eye-watering level of government debt run-up to stave off a banking collapse.

Delivering local council services through the ‘Big Society’ agenda will be more likely than ever

Achieving the savings will be no easy task for Government departments squeezed for the previous 10 years. Delivering local council services through the ‘Big Society’ agenda will be more likely than ever. County education authorities were given a warning that HMG intends to ‘set schools free’ from council bureaucracy by requiring them to convert to academy status. Presumably someone has done the maths and can see the cost savings.

Lock-up kiosk businesses in market Halls celebrated after Small Business Rates Relief was made a permanent concession

As well as cutting expenditure the Chancellor announced cuts in taxes to stimulate the economy. This included an immediate increase in personal allowances to £11,500 but no increase in VAT thresholds which was a shame. Lock-up kiosk businesses in market halls celebrated after Small Business Rates Relief was made a permanent concession with the RV threshold doubled to £12,000 with taper relief up to £15,000. Hopefully the Valuation Office and local councils will now co-ordinate their paperwork to avoid the need for individual applications.

Sweetened drinks represent only a fraction of the sugar consumption by kids whose processed meals mean they eat their own weight in sugar each year.

Of course any Budget Chancellor needs a high profile, headline-grabbing announcement to stop MP’s from dozing-off during the boring fiscally bits. George opted for a ‘sugar tax’ on sweet drinks with the £520m raised going to help the NHS combat childhood obesity and fund school sports. With suspicious alacrity the School Food Campaigner Jamie Oliver was pictured jumping for joy outside Parliament. The share price of Tate & Lyle also plunged until investors remembered their company had sold it’s sugar business back in 2010. George made the crackingly self-righteous statement that: ‘I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation: ‘I’m sorry – we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’. Great stuff, George, but sweetened drinks represent only a fraction of the sugar consumption by kids whose processed meals mean they eat their own weight in sugar each year.

George couldn’t resist having a swipe at the ‘Brexit’ campaigners

With the 23rd June EU membership referendum rapidly approaching, George couldn’t resist having a swipe at the ‘Brexit’ campaigners. Eurosceptics reacted furiously and accused him of misrepresenting the opinion of the OBR when he said it had warned of ‘negative implications’ for the UK’s economy after a Brexit. George has reason to be worried – the latest public opinion polls show voters are pretty evenly split with the FSB saying it’s members are ‘insufficiently briefed’ and the CBI sitting on the fence. The OBR joined them on the fence with a statement that ‘It is not for us to judge at this stage what the impact of a Brexit might be on the economy and public finances’. And no-one has mentioned immigration yet.

Restrictions on Sunday trading

The spring budget came a couple of weeks after the government failed in another attempt to remove restrictions on Sunday trading to stimulate the economy. It tried to dodge an inevitable fight with the clergy, shopworkers unions and ‘Keep it Special’ backbenchers by proposing local councils should set the hours. This fooled no-one. It then offered to amend the proposals in the House of Lords if MP’s voted in favour. That simply annoyed the fence-sitters and resulted in an unlikely alliance of backbench Conservative, Labour and SNP MP’s voting 317 against vs. 286 in favour.

Ministers conceded the proposals would not be resurrected

Ministers conceded the proposals would not be resurrected. The ‘High Streets’ planning minister Brandon Lewis announced through gritted teeth that ‘We respect the view of the House of Parliament. The Commons has spoken and given a very clear view – we have to absolutely respect that’. Brandon’s pronouncement was reminiscent of a famous radio interview comment by Dick Tuck, a would-be U.S. Democratic Senator. He sombrely conceded defeat in his California election campaign by announcing: ‘The people have spoken – the bastards’.

Hope you had a good Christmas. Try not to think about the kipper season.

Preliminary sales results from the big boys have been poor at best. The ‘Big Four’ supermarkets have been fighting off the Germans – Aldi and Lidl – so margins remained wafer-thin. The high street fashion retailers were hammered by unseasonably warm weather and Black Friday never really took off. Biggies like H&M and Next started their sales early (which is a bit worrying given the low rate of inflation and rising disposable incomes). Drastic discounting did not draw in the crowds as expected so when the full Christmas sales results are announced it will be interesting to see the proportion which transferred to online or simply disappeared to online competition. Amazon and Google announced amazing turnover figures for Black Friday with durables, white goods and presents only a click away. Shoppers were still seen browsing High Street shops up to Christmas Eve but more for price-comparison with online and/or to sniff out last-minute bargains. Conversion to sales seems to have been poor with many shoppers preferring to sit in front of their PC with a pile of mince pies.

Lower High Street footfall means lower Market turnover

You might have hoped this would not affect your market but I’m sorry to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Stallholders do not have the sky-high rents and rates of a ‘bricks ‘n mortar’ high street retailer so are still able to offer real bargains BUT they remain overwhelmingly reliant on footfall. Lower high street footfall means lower market turnover which seems to have affected seasonal Christmas markets as much as weekday general markets. Meat, poultry and fruit & veg. seems to have stood up reasonably well but European traders who came to the UK in search of a strong currency and better sales turnover went home disappointed. Sales turnover on Christmas markets seems to have fallen by at least a quarter.

Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground

So who were the real winners? Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground. Those selling craft and luxury goods only have done well. My friend trained as saddlemaker in Walsall but threw in that towel to make wallets, belts, dog collars and handbags and only sells online. His sales through Etsy, Ebay, Facebook and website are better then ever. He’s not cheap but works on the theory that no girl can ever be too thin or own too many handbags or pairs of shoes. He took a big gamble and doubled his stock from July but had a cracking good Christmas since. His secrets are low overheads, adding value by product skills and selling online 24/7.

Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient

So where does this leave the markets industry? The impact of online retailing and home delivery by DHL is as profound as the introduction of self-service supermarkets was to the corner shop. Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient. Sadly, the Chancelllor’s Autumn statement didn’t contain any real goodies for small businesses to reinvest in and develop themselves. But it did confirm your market authority’s worst fears – a further 29% in spending cuts over the next 5 years. The easy cuts have been made already so you can anticipate services like care for the elderly taking priority. Loss-making ‘discretionary’ services like markets are in line for disposal in line with the ‘Big Society’ agenda promoted by David Cameron.

It would be interesting to know how many stallholders have half-embraced online retailing

It would be interesting to know how many Stallholders have HALF-embraced online retailing, but not the right half. Be honest with yourself and admit whether you’ve gone online because you’re too busy selling and don’t have time to sit in the carpark queue at Bluewater (6 hours) or Silverburn (3 hours). Maybe next year you should plan ahead and go online then treat yourself with a post-Christmas weekend holiday in Eastern Europe. Many of their Christmas markets stay open until the Orthodox Christmas on 6th January.

A Christmas when you don’t have to work – whoopee!

 

The Chancellor’s July budget from the all-new, all-Conservative government was disappointing for small businesses. George Osborne described it as ‘a budget for working people’ but not many were impressed. There were no new incentives for entrepreneurs or start-ups and the only rabbit he produced out of his hat was the ‘National living wage’ set at £7.20/hour from April 2016. But this was for over-25’s only with under-25’s still stuck with the lower ‘National minimum wage’. This was retained for under-25’s to ensure they can ‘secure work and gain experience’ i.e. not be priced out of the labour market. Despite this the independent Office for Budget Responsibility predicted job losses, particularly in the agricultural sector so in response George cut Corporation tax from 20% to 19% (from 2017) and increased the National Insurance ‘employment allowance’ which waives contributions from small businesses to the tune of £3,000 per annum.

Small businesses are deeply unimpressed

Research confirms small businesses are deeply unimpressed. Those in the retail sector consider this no substitute for the more, errrr…informal wage arrangements often seen in the Markets industry. They would far have preferred an increase to the Vat threshold – a very real disincentive to making the leap into Vat-registration.

The budget also contained proposals to review the old Chestnut of Sunday trading legislation

The budget also contained proposals to review the old Chestnut of Sunday trading legislation. Osborne suggested decision-making might be devolved to local Councils to support ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing versus it’s online competition. The arguments for and against are well-rehearsed – increased costs over 7-days without increased takings etc – but unfortunately his glamorous blonde colleague and Minister for Small Business, Anna Soubry MP (Con. Broxtowe, Notts.) forgot her job title before going public with the proposals. She should have consulted with a few more small business representatives before suggesting critics such as ‘Keep Sunday Special’ are “…harking back to a world that probably didn’t exist. Sunday was the most miserable day of the week”. She should, for instance have talked to the Federation of Retail Newsagents or Association of Convenience Stores. They rejected Osborne’s proposals, suggesting less than one in ten customers wanted changes. Other critics included ‘The Sun’ newspaper which – after ditching Page three’s ‘News in Briefs’ – let columnist Rod Liddle loose to sum it up nicely as ‘a wonderful excuse for me to buy yet more crap’.

Nor were the proposals well-received by two of the ‘Big four’ supermarkets. Tesco and Sainsbury own lots of Convenience store outlets which can stay open already, so don’t fancy opening expensive Supermarkets as well. Asda and Morrison though don’t have the same High Street presence so were enthusiastic. This proposal is now out for consultation so if you’d like to share your views about trading 7-days per week I’m sure Anna would like to hear from you. She can be emailed at: anna.soubry.mp@parliament.uk

What the report really highlights is a total lack of regulation in this important area

At about the same time the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) confirmed it had found evidence supermarkets are misleading customers with price promotions – but the pricing guidelines mean the problem is more of a cockup than a conspiracy. This came after a 3-month enquiry triggered by a ‘Super complaint’ lodged by the Consumer Association magazine ’Which?’ The CMA confirmed although there was evidence of misleading pricing on the 40% of grocery sales on promotion at any one time, the problem is not widespread. Supermarkets generally take compliance with pricing seriously and the problems identified by ‘Which?’ are caused more by lack of clarity in the pricing guidelines. The CMA made some weak recommendations about price comparison data and ‘Was/Now’ promotions, where by law the period on offer of an ‘Is now’ price cannot exceed the period of the higher ‘Was then’ price. The industry-funded and entirely voluntary Retail Ombudsman suggested pricing guidelines need updating because “The problem is the current rules are merely guidelines, which present retailers with a lot of wriggle room. What the report really highlights is a total lack of regulation in this important area”. This sounds rather like the problems of food labelling and the impossibility of legislating for every possibility.

Meanwhile in the dysfunctional world of Euroland ..

Meanwhile in the dysfunctional world of Euroland the Germans played a game of blink – and lost. The unblinking Greek Prime Minister Aleksis Tsipras called the EMU’s bluff and after three (or was it four?) sets of ‘final negotiations’ agreed to some watered-down austerity measures in return for a bail-out of the Greek Euro. The Bundesbank smiled at the breakthrough through gritted teeth as the UK blocked it’s £1 billion contribution to the Euro Stabilisation Fund and City of London bankers stuck two fingers up at their rivals in Frankfurt. The Euro dropped to 72p from 97p in 2008 and although sterling is not yet back to it’s pre-financial crisis exchange rate, it is going the right way. Which is nice.

The German Chancellor reportedly arrived in Athens for the last round of emergency talks to be greeted by an officious Greek immigration officer armed with a clipboard and a list of questions: “Name?” he asked:“Angela Merkel” she replied. “Nationality?” he asked. “German” she replied. “Occupation?” he asked. “Nein – not yet” she snapped. ”First ve haf to talk……”

 

In April this year the shiny new CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) emerged from a union of the former Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission. People are watching it closely: Initial shock revelations include someone has been price-fixing galvanised steel water tanks and online review websites are not trustworthy. Well there’s a surprise. Whether or not the CMA gets around to reviewing something worthwhile such as supermarket tactics to bankrupt independent retailing remains to be seen.

Review websites often ‘lose’ poor feedback in return for sponsorship

According to the CMA some 25 million shoppers use review websites such as Amazon and TripAdvisor to ‘inform’ their purchases but many of the reviews are rigged. Review websites often ‘lose’ poor feedback in return for sponsorship, whilst manufacturers offer rewards for favourable reviews and post criticism of competitors. None of this comes as a surprise to anyone over 8 years old but encourages genuine shoppers to post outrageous comments about some products. I recommend Amazon’s eye-wateringly funny review of ‘Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Cream’ at www.amazon.co.uk/Veet-Men-Hair-Removal-Cream/dp/B000KKNQBK 

Someone who does believe in frankness and honesty is the (Canadian) Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney

Someone who does believe in frankness and honesty is the (Canadian) Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Last month he gave a highly critical after-dinner speech to city bankers to coincide with publication of the ‘Fair and Effective Markets’ review by HM Treasury. His speech left the audience squirming uncomfortably on their well-padded behinds as they remembered how the (now disbanded) Financial Services Authority failed to reign them in prior to the financial crisis. Carney was not averse to a bit of self-criticism either, describing how the Bank of England allowed the crisis to develop. The Bank’s contribution fell short…and neither identified the scale of risks in the system nor spotted gaps in the regulatory architecture’ he said. Arcane governance had blurred accountability and more would now be done to strengthen control. He added: ‘and that includes 10 years in Wormwood Scrubs for any of you guys with your hand in the till’ - or something like that. Former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King, former FSA boss Hector Sants and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown chose not to comment.

The Treasury review proposes extending criminal sanctions from investment bankers to foreign exchange traders

Chancellor George Osborne also spoke at the dinner. He publicly supported Carney with: ‘The public rightly asks: Why is it after so many scandals so few individuals face punishment in the courts? Individuals who fraudulently manipulate markets and commit financial crime should be treated like the criminals they are.’ The Treasury review proposes extending criminal sanctions from investment bankers to foreign exchange traders plus harsher penalties, something shareholders in RBS and Lloyds would doubtless like applied to reckless executives. City of London Lord Mayor, Alan Yarrow said upholding professional standards should be the norm. ‘It’s like a supermarket with no security cameras – if someone takes something without paying, it’s still theft. There is no escape. People should uphold professional standards irrespective of whether the regulators are there or not.’ Well, actions speak louder than words Alan. We’re waiting.  

Pickles made few friends amongst local councils whilst spearheading local government spending cuts

Meanwhile, having won a clear majority in the general election the Prime Minister reshuffled his cabinet without needing to consult his coalition partners. Eric Pickles, plain-speaking head of the Department of Communities and Local Government was promoted to the House of Lords with a Knighthood and an ‘anti-corruption role’ which sounds a bit South American.  To replace him David Cameron promoted Greg Clark (47) to become Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Described as a ‘soggy left’ Conservative from Middlesborough, the former Financial Secretary to the Treasury has a hard act to follow. Pickles made few friends amongst local councils whilst spearheading local government spending cuts and the 2011 Localism Act which gave community groups the right to take over council-provided services. His enthusiasm for the ‘Big Society’ agenda bolstered a reputation as a vocal critic of local government, particularly after the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham and local governments’ ineffectual response to the 2014 floods. Greg Clark faces an equally tough time at the DCLG as he now has to implement a second round of even deeper cuts to reduce the governments spending deficit. 

Canadian lobsters are now in the front line thanks to Smartphone technology

And finally: Another Canadian product has also been in the news – Lobsters. In the struggle to attract consumer spending Canadian lobsters are now in the front line thanks to Smartphone technology. Shoppers in Newfoundland can now use smartphones to scan live lobsters in fishmongers tanks to discover where their seafood is from and who caught it and when.

Tracing food back to source is not a new idea but using QR code tags to provide customers with this level of detail is

The traceable lobster program is part of thisfish.info, an initiative of Ecotrust Canada, an environmental charity. Each lobster caught by a participating member is tagged with a unique QR code which customers scan for information about the catch – when and where it was caught and by what method, plus a biography of the fisherman. Tracing food back to source is not a new idea but using QR code tags to provide customers with this level of detail is. Some Newfoundland restaurants have been serving QR-coded seafood for a couple of years and boosting sales by linking into wider consumer trends. A spokesperson said: ‘Customers love a glimpse into the lifestyle of the person who provided their supper that night. Where they live, how old they are and how long they’ve been fishing. Consumers are focusing more on where their food comes from, if it is sustainable and healthy and whether the people who catch it are paid fairly’.

No lobsters were available for comment.

 

Supermarkets suffer the same problems as market traders – but on a grander scale. This includes underestimating how long it takes to generate turnover and profit sufficient to cover borrowings. We’ve all seen the enthusiastic but inexperienced start-up who lasts 6 months before the savings run out and he does a midnight flit leaving unpaid rent and suppliers behind. ‘Turnover is for egotists but profits are for realists’ is a classic saying – and a classic argument for cheaper bank loans and more tax breaks. Hopefully George Osborne will consider both now he doesn’t need to worry about re-election.

It took Aldi 25 years to generate enough turnover to become the UK’s sixth largest retailer

It took Aldi 25 years to generate enough turnover to become the UK’s sixth largest retailer. This was confirmed by first-quarter figures showing they’ve secured 5.3% of the retail grocery sector. That puts them ahead of Waitrose (a mere 5.1%) but still a long way short of Tesco at 28%. But every little helps.

What a pity they’re German, not British

At the same time Aldi announced ambitious expansion plans with another nine London stores in 2015 and a nationwide target of 1,000 by 2022. Contrast this with Tesco who ditched 40 + planned openings in the UK plus more abroad before posting a £6.4billion pre-tax loss. The fact that Aldi is both foreign and privately-owned simply rubs salt into the wound. It is not subject to corporate shareholder pressure for increased profits, year-on-year so could take it’s time to understand an overseas market. What a pity they’re German, not British.

It cost Tesco £1.2billion in write-offs when they pulled out in 2013

Asda retained their second place at 17% whilst Sainsbury held on at 16% but is suffering the same fall-out from overseas expansion that characterised Tesco under former Chief Executive Phillip Clarke. Tesco thought the best way to maintain turnover profits was overseas so launched their all-new ‘Fresh ’n Easy’ brand in blue collar USA. But they underestimated just how ‘mature’ US consumers are and that car workers in Detroit don’t understand self-service checkouts. It cost Tesco £1.2billion in write-offs when they pulled out in 2013.

Sainsbury’s venture into the unsophisticated retail economy of Egypt went dramatically wrong

Maybe Sainsbury’s new CEO, Mike Coupe should have considered this last year when he took over from long-standing predecessor Justin King. Sainsbury’s venture into the unsophisticated retail economy of Egypt went dramatically wrong when the Egyptian Courts charged JK with some (admittedly very dubious) allegations of embezzlement. Unfortunately Sainsbury had got into bed with a local developer who then went bust which cost them a modest £111million in write-offs after 18 months. But the ex-partner continued to pursue Sainsbury for alleged embezzlement so when Mike took over he travelled to Egypt to appeal against a guilty verdict. He very sensibly caught the return flight before the outcome of his appeal was announced which was just as well because he was sentenced to two years in Cairo Clink in his absence. There’ll be no more Egyptian sightseeing holidays for Mike unless he wants to do it in handcuffs.

This is not what one expects from a FTSE100 Company

The amazing thing is that investors learnt about this from the media, not from a Shareholder announcement. This is not what one expects from a FTSE100 Company and must rank alongside JK’s 2007 denial of Sainsbury colluding with suppliers to rig dairy product prices. Until two months later that is, when he announced a £26million out of court settlement with The Office of Fair Trading to avoid prosecution. Hmmm…….

Taking your eye off your home turf and forgetting what you do well may be a big mistake.

It seems the bigger you get the more confident you are that size alone will enable you to do a better job than the locals, even if you choose the right partner. Taking your eye off your home turf and forgetting what you do well may be a big mistake. Tom Jones (yes, THAT Tom Jones) was top of the bill in Las Vegas for 40 years before being offered a lucrative partnership in a new Hotel development. He’s no fool when it comes to business and turned it down, saying: ‘What do I know about running Hotels – I’m just a boy from the Valleys who can sing a bit’ which was not unusual.

The ‘Big Four’ Supermarkets are now faced with an inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority

The fallout of all this is going to get worse says Begbies Traynor, the corporate insolvency practitioners. They suggest 1,400 wholesalers face imminent collapse as price wars escalate and buyers cut out the middlemen and deal direct with producers. After all, someone has to pay for the ‘£1 deals’. More worryingly they predict a bleaker picture still when Aldi and Lidl capture up to 20% of market share as predicted. They point out that: ‘The majority of Aldi and Lidl’s packaged stock is own-brand sourced from overseas, so struggling UK suppliers could find themselves squeezed even further’ – particularly if Sterling continues to strengthen whilst the Euro goes South. To add to Sainsbury problems the ‘Big Four’ Supermarkets are now faced with an inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority (successor to the OFT and Competition Commission). This was triggered by a so-called ‘super complaint’ lodged by ‘Which?’ magazine alleging they systematically mislead shoppers by reducing pack sizes without reducing prices and make seasonal offers where the ‘previous higher price’ only applied out of season etc etc. I can’t help thinking this will only restate the bleeding obvious and result in a few adjustments to the Pricing guidelines and Groceries code of practice.

Mind you, a bit of adjudication in favour of shorter payment periods for suppliers would be welcome. Tell me about it.

market cuts

 

When Journalist and Broadcaster Alistair Cooke joined the New York Times he was puzzled by a large sign – KISS – hanging on the wall of the newsroom. His editor explained: ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid. Your readers have 10 minutes on the subway to read and understand your article. Then tomorrow it will be on the bottom of their budgie cage’. The business consultancy Deloitte did just that in December with their annual ‘State of the State’ report published in partnership with independent Think Tank ‘Reform’ it showed the progress the coalition government has made in restructuring the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.

A Deloitte reports suggests that: ‘Councils are likely to move away from providing services they are not legally required to provide ‘ i.e. discretionary services such as Markets.

According to Deloitte/Reform just under half of the necessary spending cuts have been achieved but all the quick fixes – public sector pay freezes and redundancies etc – have now been used up. The second half of the necessary cuts is going to be MUCH tougher. The report suggests that of necessity ‘Councils are likely to move away from providing services they are not legally required to provide ‘ i.e. discretionary services such as Markets. There’s also a nasty sting in the tail with the warning that: ‘Whilst early spending cuts took place in a recession, the coming ones will be in a period of economic GROWTH. Citizens are more likely to experience roads in disrepair, dirtier streets, unkempt parks, and fewer pools and libraries’. The UK may now have emerged from recession and be the fastest-growing economy in the EU but government spending needs to be savaged for years to come. The report suggests ‘the UK’s governance, public sector and citizen experience of public services is likely to change profoundly’ i.e. ring their Contractor, not the Council if your bin isn’t collected on time. The report illustrates the enormous growth in the public sector over the last 50 years which in inflation-adjusted figures has risen from £190 billion in 1964 to £730 billion in 2014. Public sector spending now represents an unprecedented 44% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product.

£1.4 trillion of debt was borrowed to buy Royal Bank of Scotland to prevent total economic meltdown. This debt continues to rise and costs the taxpayer £1 billion per week in interest payments – more than the government spends on education.

The report steers clear of political point-scoring but does confirm the record annual budget deficit of 2010 meant the government spent £159 billion MORE than it received in income. This annual deficit has now been reduced by about half after the coalition government set itself the ambitious target of eliminating it entirely by 2018/19. Once this has been eliminated by ‘fiscal consolidation’ HMG can start paying back the £1.4 trillion of debt borrowed to buy Royal Bank of Scotland etc and prevent total economic meltdown. This debt continues to rise and costs the taxpayer £1 billion per week in interest payments – more than the government spends on education. If this isn’t reduced then by 2023 the interest payments will be three times greater than total expenditure on the armed forces. Whichever government we have after next May the need to buy-down the debt is so pressing that hoping economic growth will make the problem go away is not an option.

Quarterbridge has unrivalled experience of securing investment and restructuring Markets services to meet the challenges

If you cast your mind back to 2010 you’ll remember the long overdue creation of the independent Office of Budget Responsibility to produce ‘Whole Government Accounts’ for the UK. In retrospect it’s amazing that prior to then there was no set of trading accounts for the government. That’s not exactly the way to run a Business or a Markets Service or Country, but it happens. The good news is Quarterbridge has unrivalled experience of securing investment and restructuring Markets services to meet the challenges.

You can download a copy of the Deloitte report from: http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitt-uk-state-of-the-state-2014.pdf

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement

 

When journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke joined the New York Times he was puzzled by a large sign – KISS – hanging on the wall of the newsroom. His editor explained: ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid. Your readers have 10 minutes on the subway to read and understand your article. Then tomorrow it’s at the bottom of their budgie cage’. At the beginning of December, just before the Chancellor’s Autumn statement the business consultancy Deloitte did just that with their annual ‘State of the State’ report. It was published in partnership with the independent Think Tank ‘Reform’ to show how much progress the coalition government has made in restructuring the economy after the 2008 financial crisis. It is quite readable provided you have a bottle of gin to hand. You can download a copy from:

http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitt-uk-state-of-the-state-2014.pdf

‘Keep It Simple, Stupid. Your readers have 10 minutes on the subway to read and understand your article. Then tomorrow it’s at the bottom of their budgie cage’.

According to Deloitte/Reform about half of the necessary spending cuts have now been achieved, BUT all the quick fixes – public sector pay freezes and redundancies etc – have been used up. What’s still to come is going to be MUCH tougher. They suggest: ‘Councils are likely to move away from providing services they are not legally required to provide’ (such as markets) with the sting in the tail that: ‘Whilst early spending cuts took place in a recession, the coming ones will be in a period of economic GROWTH. Citizens are more likely to experience roads in disrepair, dirtier streets, unkempt parks, and fewer pools and libraries’. The UK has now emerged from recession and has the fastest-growing economy in the EU but government spending will still be savaged for years to come. As a retailer your turnover may be on the up but the services your Council provides are going south. The report suggests ‘the UK’s governance, public sector and citizen experience of public services is likely to change profoundly’. Picking up the phone to complain about a pothole is about to become history in the same way that car tax discs have.

Amazingly, prior to 2010 there was in effect no set of management accounts for the government.

The report steers clear of political point-scoring but does confirm the record annual budget deficit of 2010 meant the government spent £159 billion MORE than it received in income. This annual deficit has now been reduced by about half after the coalition government set itself the ambitious target of eliminating it entirely by 2018/19. Success to date has gone down well with our trading partners and particularly the establishment of the independent ‘Office of Budget Responsibility’ which produces ‘Whole Government Accounts’. Amazingly, prior to 2010 there was in effect no set of management accounts for the government. That’s not exactly the way to run a country or a local authority markets service either, but it happens. It’s even less impressive when you consider public spending has soared from £190 billion in 1964 to £730 billion in 2014. It now represents 44% of Gross Domestic Product i.e. business turnover for the UK and you are to blame for much of the problem. You keep getting healthier, more educated and living longer. Have you no shame?

HMG can start paying back the £1.4 trillion of debt which it borrowed to buy Royal Bank of Scotland etc

So once the annual deficit has been eliminated by ‘fiscal consolidation’ HMG can start paying back the £1.4 trillion of debt which it borrowed to buy Royal Bank of Scotland etc and prevent total economic meltdown. That debt continues to rise and costs the taxpayer £1 billion per week in interest payments – more than the government spends on education. The politicians can argue about how the deficit will be reduced – what spending cuts and over how long etc – but if the debt isn’t reduced then interest payments by 2023 will be three times greater than total expenditure on the armed forces.

‘National and local politicians have a duty to engage citizens in constructive dialogue about the changing limits of the state’

The authors of the report then interviewed public sector chief executives who are tasked with finding ways to save the money and implement the next round of cuts. This unwelcome problem has been dumped into their laps so they are less then flattering about their political masters. ‘National and local politicians have a duty to engage citizens in constructive dialogue about the changing limits of the state’ they say i.e. ‘As the elected representative it’s your duty to tell locals why I’m selling-off their playing fields and closing down the care homes’. Whichever government we have after next May the need to balance the books and buy-down the debt is so pressing that politicians won’t be able bury their heads in the sand and wait for economic growth to make the problem go away.

In his Autumn statement George rummaged around down the back of the sofa and found another £2 billion a year for the NHS

In his Autumn statement George rummaged around down the back of the sofa and found another £2 billion a year for the NHS, which was nice. He also introduced tax for companies like Starbucks which shift profits overseas, then cut the ability of banks to offset losses against profits during financial crises. Nicer still and all good tinkering in the run up to the general election to be followed (hopefully) by another last-minute announcement to scrap HS2 to save another £80 billion.

Some markets still make a reasonable profit for their owners but I’m sorry to say an equal number are total basket cases

So what does all this mean for the markets industry? The vast majority of markets are operated by local government as one of those ‘discretionary services’ now in the accountants sights. Some still make a reasonable profit for their owners but I’m sorry to say an equal number are total basket cases. For them any possibility of improvement is further away than ever unless their owners embrace some radical new ideas.

Why doesn’t George Osborne have grey hair?

And finally, if you’re planning to stand for election in May please consider a few other problems you’ll need to resolve as well: More independence and tax-raising powers for Scotland, improving national security and counter-terrorism, addressing immigration and maybe organising a referendum or two which could take the UK out of the EU. Not much really.

Which invites the question: Why doesn’t George Osborne have grey hair?

News-Main Image Penguins

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.