Tag Archives: Big Society


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!

News-Beach and deck chairs

I once worked alongside an Insurance Actuary who claimed he could ask a dozen questions and then predict when you were going to die, plus or minus a couple of years. He used to crack actuarial jokes like ‘Did you know – half the population of the UK is below average intelligence?’ and we called him ‘Mister Average’. He was weird but very clever – he knew the Life Tables inside out and was very, very good at selling life insurance. Predicting when a customer would cash in their chips was amusing then but a lot less so thirty years on when someone has been fixing the interest rates on your hard-earned savings. I’m not really sure I want to know how long I’m going to live in retirement whilst watching my savings run out. I’d rather be Bob Diamond, 60-year old former Chief Exec. at Barclays who resigned over the rate-fixing scandal and is estimated to be worth £600 million.

My guess is the retirement age of workers in the Markets industry is well above the national average and a lot higher than that of Bankers. But if you retire later does it mean you’ll snuff it sooner than Bob? Because you’ve spent a healthy life out in the open air and not stuck in an office maybe you’ll die older than him. That’ll show him.

Delayed retirement is not bad for your health.

Last month the BBC’s Radio Four hired a tame Actuary to do a bit of myth-busting. They asked him: Does a demanding job (Market trader?) or delayed retirement (Market trader?) mean you die sooner than someone with a cushy job (Banker?) or early retirement (Banker?) The Actuary investigated the much-quoted internet story that employees of aircraft-maker Boeing who retire at 55 live, on average, to 83. But those who retire at 65 are dead by 67. Well you’ll be reassured to learn that according to the administrators of the Boeing pension scheme that is just an urban myth. God only knows who makes up these stories but delayed retirement is not bad for your health.

But data from the UK Office of National Statistics does suggest people in certain jobs die earlier than others.

The difference between job-types is not marked. Bankers and Actuaries do live some 3 years longer on average than Scaffolders and Miners but there’s no category for Market traders. Shopkeepers die – again on average – at age 86 which is only one year less than the longest-lived (Guess who? – Bankers and Actuaries). But because life expectancy increases year-on-year you can probably add a few more years to the UK average mortality age of 87 for men and 90 for women by the time you get there. But remember that these are still averages and you haven’t got nine lives. Stepping in front of a bus will definitely make you below average.

They also busted another myth: The later you retire, the earlier you die. Quite the reverse actually. Mortality ages are slightly lower – again on average – for staff who retire at 55 than for those who work to 65. But, as they pointed out some people are forced to retire early because of ill health so although the statistics suggest people who retire earlier die slightly earlier, early retirement may not be the reason. They also confirmed that women live three years longer than men which is obviously very unfair.

So does it matter where you live? If you want to live longer should you move house? If so you should retire to Hinton St. George (Somerset), Aldeburgh (Suffolk) or Frinton-on-Sea (Essex) where you’re likely – again on average – to spin it out for another 4 years. Residents of Hinton St. George can expect to live for 88.7 (men) or 91.6 years (women). This may account for the extraordinary level of support for it’s Village Shop and Post Office.

Back in 2008 the proposed closure of Hinton St. George Post Office brought Nick Clegg – newly-elected leader of the LibDems – to the village on the campaign trail. The Community was determined to secure the future of their Shop and Post Office and political support was just what they needed to raise their profile and drive things forward. Several recently-retired and very determined residents saw the threat posed to the village and worked-up a Business Plan for a Community Shop owned by an Industrial Provident Society. They called-in some favours to sort out the paperwork, established the Society, registered it with the FSA and raised £100K of working capital through donations and pledges. Their next step was to secure a lottery grant which enabled them to convert the upper floor of the shop into a residential flat for rent. A share offer is now planned to raise further development capital to diversify and develop the business. Good for them – self-help works.

All of this is of course in line with the ‘Big Society’ agenda promoted by the government. Making local provision and delivering local services through so-called Social Enterprises such as Provident Societies is very much flavour of the month. Membership of the Society is available to all for a nominal sum and the project is proceeding nicely thanks to enormous support from the local community.

If you’re planning on retiring from the Markets industry I can guarantee you’ll be bored stiff within six months of retirement. Consider establishing a Social Enterprise for a worthy cause. It’ll be a doddle after running your Market business and you won’t be immortal, but you won’t be bored either.