Woolworths is only the beginning …

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In the meantime, they caution, beware of sharp rallies because promises of early upturns will be short lived. Instead, make decisions that will give you the edge beyond 2009, so that you are ready to grab the good business as it starts to revive.

In the meantime, at the lower end of the pecking order, the retail high street is going through one of its worst periods in recent history. Woolworths, we have been told, is only the start. At least another 15 mid-market retailers are doomed to failure well before the credit crunch is over and many of those will be familiar names, and some of them will have sizeable outlets in the Channel Islands.

The most obvious result will be empty premises in our high street. For instance the Queen Street shop vacated by shoe firm Dolcis at the back end of last year as yet, I believe, has no takers. A few more sizeable vacancies will leave some largish holes in the St Helier shopping experience that are unlikely to fill up in a hurry.

Where this will leave the 15 or so new retail outlets down at the abattoir site is anyone’s guess. Some say an announcement will be made next month, others say there is no evidence of any firm take-up. At the same time some of the smaller local shops are known to be struggling and a few have already shut their doors for good. The timely advice already coming from Economic Development about collecting payments promptly to keep the cash flow coming is not just based on hearsay.

It will become increasingly more difficult, as the next few months progress, to focus on recovery rather than redundancy.

THE merits or otherwise of a Bank of Jersey will no doubt be one of the debating points of 2009. Of course this is not the first time a home-grown funding option to help during a recession has been proposed. During the last recession, in 2002, Community Savings and Credit was set up to help people on low incomes to save small amounts and issue loans at low rates of interest.

As far as I know that organisation – although technically not a ‘bank’ – is still running from an office at the back of the Town Hall and is probably busier than ever. The original idea was that groups of people with a common interest could get together, such as a tenants’ association or a workers’ union, and benefit from mutual support. Latterly, I believe, individuals as well as groups have also been able to access this service.

The Jersey bank proposed by Kevin Keen last week is no doubt targeting a wider band of the community and has larger aspirations. But the principle is the same: there are times when Jersey has to start fending for itself.

Two cases in point have brought this to our attention recently. The first is the absence of a compensation scheme for savers, not just in Jersey deposits but elsewhere as well. In this the Island has been shown to be woefully inadequate. As yet, I believe, and despite protests from those affected, Jersey depositors in the Guernsey branch of Landsbanki have not been able to access compensation.

The second instance, of course, is the absence of redundancy laws, allowing the liquidators of Woolworths to use the Channel Islands as a perfect get-away-scot-free clause. If they can, they will. Even more worrying is that given the likelihood of an increasing number of redundancies in every sector of the Island’s economy, this lack of legal protection will become ever more apparent.

For many years now Jersey has been bumbling along in its own tracks, arguing that it is just too expensive to bring in legislation in the same way as larger governments, that the Island is just too small, that these kind of things will never happen, and that if they do people will have to find a way around it.

Unfortunately, if Jersey is to play on the big boys’ stage, as it has been wont to do of late, it will have to raise its targets more than a little.

Yes, it will cost. Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will be worth it. And yes, it should have been done a long time ago.

HAVE you ever been put off going on holiday because of poor service? According to the chairman of VisitBritain, Christopher Rodrigues, thousands of jobs are in the balance because potential tourists just can’t stand the treatment they are given in British establishments. Mr Rodrigues – who fronts an organisation which advises Jersey Tourism – cites surly reception staff, grotty towels, and used soap as reasons for falling tourism numbers. He reckons that around 50,000 jobs will be lost to the UK tourism sector this year.

There are, of course, plenty of other reasons why the British mainland struggles to find punters – despite the good value of the pound against the dollar and the euro. Weather is one of them. But it has to be said that quality of service sometimes compares unfavourably with continental competitors – and even with some well-thought out strategies for this year, Jersey’s tourism industry will need to keep its own standards higher than ever. Just be nice to people, you hear?

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