March: Shopping Independently

I don’t mean “independent” as in going to the shops all by myself — I’ve been doing that for quite a while now along with dressing myself and packing my own bags when I travel.

Edinburgh is blessed with a multitude of fantastic independent shops; the city is fortunate to have them. Like a lot of people, I think I’m guilty of overlooking them in the name of convenience a little too often.

This month, I’ll not be giving my custom to any chain shops or supermarkets.

Saturation

Just over a year ago, before the Guardian “retired” their local beatblogger experiment, Tom Allen asked the question that more and more people still seem to be asking themselves: How many supermarkets do we really need?

Despite the protests, planning approval was granted and a new Tesco store opened at the start of the year. At the end of this month, the first associated closure is imminent.

There was a similar outcry here in Stockbridge when a Sainsbury’s Local opened up its doors. Lots of concern was voiced for the viability of local traders — although not to the extent of the anti-Tesco demonstrations in Bristol.

Things have certainly changed and not entirely for the worse. For a start, the local asian comestible stores have been forced to up their game. No longer can they get away with chatting away on the phone to their relatives in Pakistan or India, paying you scant regard. I’m not resorting to cheap stereotypes here, this is a common experience for a lot of people. It’s frankly a pleasure to experience friendly, genuinely helpful staff instead of being fobbed off with poor-quality produce and attitudes

This news came on the same day that it was announced that Mary Portas is to investigate the decline of the High Street. It seems that even the government is concerned with the proliferation of chain stores dominating the shopping landscape. Compare this with the clamour for a Wagamama to open in Edinburgh, the delight when a YO! Sushi appeared at Harvey Nichols or the anticipation of the long-awaited Apple Store.

Selective NIMBYism is rife it seems. It people want things to change then they should stop blaming these stores and start turning their attentions to the reasons that people want to shop there in the first place.

Basic maths

I was reading the Observer UK Factfile at the weekend and something struck me as a little weird. Apparently in 2009 we exported £12.4bn in petrol and imported £14.5bn of the same commodity.

Nobody yet has been able to explain to me why this happens instead of just using what we would normally export and importing £2.1bn.

There may be trouble ahead

Now I’m not an economist by trade nor training but in this day and age of Google and Wikipedia, educating yourself is far easier than it ever has been before.

The odds are that we’ll have a hung parliament in a few months. Despite the tempting mental image that this conjures in light of the expenses and other MP scandals of late, this is not a good thing.

There’s a good chance that the UK would lose its triple-A credit rating because investors would more than likely view a fragmented government as being unable to form a concerted and focused effort to get the country’s finances back on track and thus making it more expensive for the country to borrow money. As has happened in recessions of the past the feared double dip looms large. Whatever happens in the election, I think that a rise to 20% VAT is inevitable this year and despite being kept at a historical low of 0.5% once more, interest rates will obviously rise again.

While greater than expected, a 0.3% rise in the economy is still little more a statistical anomaly when taken in the bigger context rather than any concrete indication that the worst is behind us. The spin that we’re out of the woods is just that.

I don’t want to spread fear but it certainly does look like the UK is in a heap of trouble and many people far more versed in this kind of thing think that we’re in for a long Kondratiev winter and choosing when to start the serious and inescapable cut backs will make a massive difference to the outcome.