Our Man in West­min­ster

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Opinion -

IHAVE been vis­it­ing a num­ber of com­pa­nies around Ash­ford in re­cent weeks to take the tem­per­a­ture of lo­cal busi­ness as the re­ces­sion bites. One in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor ob­served sadly that he had been jok­ing for a year that join­ing the re­ces­sion was not com­pul­sory but now had to ad­mit that it was. This all-em­brac­ing gloom was re­lieved by a few glimpses of sun­shine. One of the things peo­ple seem de­ter­mined to hang on to, how­ever dif­fi­cult the eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment, is the abil­ity to go out to eat and drink. So pubs and restau­rants are rea­son­ably cheer­ful. How­ever this “nor­mal” be­hav­iour of con­sumers does not seem to be spread­ing to lo­cal shops, many of whom are re­port­ing a down­turn which is the worst in 30 years. I have heard re­tail­ers use phrases like “ab­so­lutely fright­en­ing” to de­scribe the con­di­tions. Anec­do­tally, the only shops which seem to be busier than ever are the pound shops, they of­fer peo­ple a bar­gain and in cur­rent cir­cum­stances they will take it. The VAT cut has made no ap­par­ent dif­fer­ence to sales. As for other sec­tors, the pic­ture is mixed. Some firms have sen­si­bly worked out that the pub­lic sec­tor is more likely to pro­vide work for con­trac­tors than the pri­vate sec­tor over the next cou­ple of years, so are skew­ing their busi­ness in that di­rec­tion. Oth­ers are find­ing that re­pair work is much in de­mand while peo­ple wait ner­vously to see what hap­pens next. As for the banks, I have heard some sur­pris­ingly warm words from busi­nesses about their own bank but the gen­eral pic­ture is of de­ci­sions to lend be­ing de­ferred as long as pos­si­ble. The banks may have been res­cued with our money but for many busi­nesses in Ash­ford the credit crunch is still very much with us.

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