The week that was
MondayThe week began with the FSA's long-awaited indictment of the RBS management and summarised the "poor decisions" Fred the Shred and friends made to bring the bank and the world economy to its knees. Nick Clegg decided to exercise his own veto and stayed away from the House of Commons while the Prime Minister David Cameron explained why our European neighbours have taken the UK off this year's Xmas card list. "Ou est Nick?" chanted the Labour backbenchers.
One of the big business stories of the day was the OECD and rating agency Fitch outlined that the UK, along with Germany, France, Italy, India, Brazil and the Eurozone countries, would suffer sharp economic slowdowns. Other than Russia and China, which both showed above long-term trends, most countries are displaying the weakest growth forecasts in two years.
Fitch downgraded its UK growth forecasts to 0.7% in 2012 and 2% in 2013, from an earlier forecast of 1.2% and 2.1% respectively.
"Low business and consumer confidence is likely to depress spending, as the Eurozone crisis drags on, and as households register the effects of fiscal consolidation and high inflation," the ratings agency said.
TuesdayConsumer confidence is down but Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, has the answer. National Market Day! Sadly her six month review of the decline of the high street, published this week, seemed to divide the UK buying public: those who love a farmer's market and those who love good parking at retail parks.
Portas suggested 28 different ways to revitalise town centres including considering new ways to prevent landlords from leaving vacant properties, reform the 'use class' system so shops can change usage more easily and bring free controlled parking schemes for town centres. However retailers and landlords reacted badly to the suggestions that Eric Pickles, the Coalition's communities secretary, should be given powers to halt out of town super developments and that these new developments include a provision of fixed low rents to encourage smaller retailers.
She added that her provisions were to give more choice to the consumer. But the British Retail Consortium, which did praise the review, added the caveat that these changes shouldn't "choke off good developments".
Reactions on Twitter, the channel for the UK's social conscience, were mixed with comments like "what would these markets actually sell in places like Doncaster or Sheffield?" Many people are happy with the new emporiums such as Westfield Stratford while others want to see high streets become entertainment venues with jugglers and X Factor rejects.
For the gaming community, Tuesday was a red letter day. Call of Duty: MW3 became the fastest-selling entertainment product of all time hitting $1bn sales in just 16 days. That beat Avatar and Harry Potter figures and showed the paradigm shift in consumer buying has finally materialised. Expect to see more gaming stores in Mary's new shopping Utopia.
WednesdayGood news for gaming manufacturers and bad news for the Treasury – the UK jobless figures were published. A lost generation is now a reality, who will know how to bring down the Eiffel Tower in Battlefield 3but not know how it was built or how to rebuild it. UK unemployment climbed by 128,000 to a 17-year high, or 8.3% of the workforce, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced. Overall the unemployment figure stands at 2.6m but there are real fears are that this figure will climb past the 3m mark next year. One million young people are without jobs and have little hope of finding any work, and women who take part-time roles are being hit the hardest. The obvious problem is that the private sector cannot compensate for the major loss in public sector jobs. Between June to September, the public sector shed 67,000 jobs to reach just below 6m for the first time since 2003. The private sector added just 5,000 jobs over this period.
ThursdayAs the week drew to a close, yet more bad news from the high street. Barratts, the shoe retailer, went into administration putting 3840 jobs at risk. High street retailers bemoaned the slack Xmas shopping season and the shift to online sales. The ONS (which has been as busy as the OBR recently) produced mixed reviews of consumer spending during November, where retail sales showed an increase of 4.6% compared to the same period last year. But sadly the sales did not give an injection to Mary Portas's campaign. Online retail sales increased to an eye-watering £787.9m up from £546.4m, accounting for 12.2% of all UK retail sales.
If there is anything this week taught the UK consumer is that the cyber highway can be travelled quickly and cheaply, without the punter having to contend with expensive parking or the annoying sound of 'Jingle Bells' sung by buskers in the town centre.