The upside of downturn

It’s an ill wind that has boosted consumer spending north and south, as reported by the Irish Times and the Belfast Telegraph – although watch out for the time-lag in trend reporting.

The good piece of digging in the Belfast Telegraph reveals more good news of the fall in fuel charges – reflecting the current global position in a notoriously volatile sector and the impact of shrinkage all round. No doubt it’s an incomplete and changing story. Let’s hope the local media keeps monitoring the situation and business and other bloggers chip in with refinements and corrections when necessary.

One big question: how do these price falls affect the Executive’s long awaited fuel poverty package? Does anybody know, even Nigel Dodds and his officials? The politics flagged up in Slugger last month are byzantine. And the alleged need for legislation is creating further delay, as discussed over at
NI crunchtalk.

Quotes from the Bel Tel story.

“A straw poll of local distributors, published today in the Belfast Telegraph, shows that some companies have knocked 27% (or £110) off their prices in the last 12 weeks, to bring 900 litres down to under £300. It also emerged that home heating oil costs less here than anywhere else in the UK or Ireland.

NIE Energy also offered some cheer by implementing price cuts of 10.8%, while Phoenix Gas has reduced its tariffs by 22.1%, bringing a little relief to beleaguered families across the province.”

Meanwhile in the political stratosphere Alistair Darling has been performing a dance of the seven veils about the next stage of the UK government’s financial strategy in today’s FT. Is there to be a second bank recapitalisation? ( shudder!); a guarantee scheme ; a “ bad bank” for the toxic assets ( how many?; more “flexible” minimum capital limits for the banks?

Does this thinking aloud presage an admission that the current bail-out “ to rescue the banks” has actually failed or was always intended to be Stage One leading to a second tranche to kick-start the reopening of wholesale funding markets? And when will we see some action? Business’s frustration must be increasing to boiling point – or are local companies merely fatalistic about strategies they can hardly hope to influence?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London