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Issue:- 8 December  2011

Is it the death knell for the high street and will it be able to afford the funeral?

THE BRC statistics could spell impeding disaster for the high street. Figgers now show that UK retail sales values were 1.6% lower on a like-for-like basis from November 2010, when sales had risen 0.7%. On a total basis, sales were up only 0.7%, against a 2.8% increase in November 2010. On both measures, sales performance was the weakest since May. Even the much vaunted online retail sector experienced a downturn in growth were sales finished up 8.6% up on a year ago, the weakest since March and half the previous November's increase.  As retailers struggle to get into peoples empty wallets, the sales have started even earlier this year, with some even claiming that the Boxing Day sale has already started, as retailers attempt to shift a massive encumbrance of unsold stock. With 85 million visits due to online retailers daily, and some 1,000 purchases made a 2nd, online retailers are committed to snatch and grab from their high street rivals.  The level of promotions is on a par with the "panic sales" of 2008 and while this year’s promotions are largely more structured and considered, this is likely to have an impact on margins. The effects of a combination of reduced margins and low sales will come as retailers approach Christmas more in hope than expectation. Moreover, the weather is set to take a turn for the worse this week and with more people feeling a pinch in their pockets, online shopping sales have surged as people shy away from Britain’s high streets.

Ellen Flood, Director of Shopow, said on BBC Breakfast that:- "The peak in online Christmas sales has been brought forward to this week, a whole 21 days earlier than expected. The recession and strong demand from consumers hunting for deals online has lead to an all out price war, with many high street retailers losing their nerve in light of plummeting profit margins. There is a huge concern that they will lose out on business to the online retails as they hunt for deals.  We are experiencing a huge surge in demand from consumers hunting for deals and bargains on Christmas presents, we expect a record rise in online spend this Christmas forced in part by the recession and by ever tightening purse strings; creating a an all out nation of bargain hunters."

In the run up to Christmas consumers are expected to spend a whopping £7.75 billion on online shopping according to e-tailing trade association IMRG. An estimated £13 billion will be spent across all sectors online, however figures on the high street are expected to fall by 2.1% in spite of so many sales starting early. It is clear that this year’s success stories will be told with a distinctly online lilt.  Either way, times are hard for the consumer; the likely impact will be felt at many tills.

Success dished up in Liverpool

LIVERPOOL City Council’s young high fliers graduate on Thursday, 8 December 2011, at a special ceremony at Liverpool Town Hall. The 14 young workers are aged from 19 up to their mid 20’s and are a mix of apprentices, undergraduates from Liverpool John Moores University who completed a 12 month placement and graduates who have completed a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Liverpool. They have worked across a variety of roles in a range of departments including the Chief Executive’s Office, St George’s Hall, the Register Office and premises management. To celebrate, they have been invited to a lunch; which will be dished up on silver service platters by professional cookery apprentices from the De Vere Academy in Kirkdale.

Councillor Nick Small, Cabinet member for employment, enterprise and skills, said that:- "It is one of the council’s key priorities to give young people the opportunity to get on the employment ladder, and these programmes are crucially important. Many young people don’t even consider a career in local government when thinking about what they want to do when they leave school, but it is vital that they do. We need to do more to make our workforce more reflective of the communities we serve, and as the majority of our staff are older we have to be thinking about where tomorrow’s employees will come from. This is just one strand of a number of projects to give young people the skills to compete for jobs, including the Merseyside Apprentice Programme, the newly created Liverpool Apprenticeship Service and the business grant scheme with the private sector."

Among the people at the event will be 24 year old graduate trainee Rebecca Shaw, who works in the Chief Executive’s office
and has completed a Masters in Public Administration. Rebecca remarked that:- "I’ve gained lots of experience and had the opportunity to work with different departments and a variety of people. There are so many different things that the council is involved in which a lot of people don’t know about and I’ve found it interesting finding out how decisions are made, and being involved in the process."

Kellie Rixon, Managing Director of the De Vere Academy of Hospitality - a not-for-profit initiative operated by the UK’s largest independent hotel group added that:- "We are delighted to be part of the city council’s celebratory Liverpool Apprentice awards. At the De Vere Academy we are not just training people for our own businesses, we are giving them a chance to start a career and develop in life, work and social skills. At this time of increasing youth unemployment, we are confident that by working together with our valued business partners and with the city council, we will continue to create opportunities to allow more and more young people to become stars in the UK hospitality and service sectors."

New £125m fund to boost UK advanced manufacturing supply chains

A new initiative of up to £125 million is being set up to improve the global competitiveness of UK advanced manufacturing supply chains, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced on 6 December 2011.  The Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative aims to help existing UK supply chains grow and achieve world class standards while encouraging major new suppliers to come and manufacture here. The new fund will support innovative projects in established UK advanced manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automotive and chemicals. It will also target newer growth areas where the UK is well placed to take a global lead, such as energy renewables and other low carbon sectors. The competitive fund will invite applications early in the new year and will be flexible in the type of support offered to successful proposals, recognising that to fulfil their potential and address market failures suppliers and supply chains may require a combination of investment in capital equipment, associated research and development and improved skills and training support.  Business Secretary Vince Cable said:- "Recent economic and natural shocks such as the ash clouds, tsunami and Japanese earthquake have shown the fragility of long distance and single source supply chains. I want to seize on the increased preference that big global companies are showing for co-locating key elements of their supply chains with their UK manufacturing operations. British suppliers have a lot to offer and we need to help them realise and develop their strengths and sell them on the international market. While still encouraging free trade I also want to gain maximum value for the UK by ensuring our suppliers are in the best position possible to compete for the very significant new private and public investments being made in the UK over the next few years."

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:- "We welcome this new initiative which will help build UK supply chain capability and resilience. It will enhance our manufacturing competitiveness and build on strengths in advanced engineering, research and innovation. Better coordination of effort and a concerted focus to develop areas of comparative advantage will create new manufacturing jobs and drive growth as part of a rebalanced economy. This initiative will help ensure we make the most of value chain opportunities in key sectors such as chemicals, food, automotive and aerospace. It is a clear step in the right direction as part of a new approach to industrial policy."

Chief Executive of EEF Terry Scuoler said:- "UK suppliers in manufacturing compare with the best in the world but there are simply too few of them. Addressing this shortcoming is vital as many companies are responding to the shocks of recent years by looking afresh at how they manage their supply chains. Now is the right time to provide a serious boost to our domestic capability."

Applications will be assessed by the Technology Strategy Board. Its Chief Executive, Iain Gray, said:- "Our goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. We are delighted to be involved in running this competition, which provides an opportunity to see innovation move rapidly into the market across whole supply chains in a broad range of advanced manufacturing sectors."

The programme will complement and work alongside other publicly funded schemes such as the Regional Growth Fund, Growth and Innovation Fund, Manufacturing Advisory Service and UK Trade and Investment to maximise impact.

Theatre Prop Nearly Given Parking Ticket!

THE Black Cab that features in Regal Entertainments’ production of Night Collar, that has been running at St Helens Theatre Royal, was almost given a parking ticket on 6 December 2011!

According to Bill Elms Associates:- "the cab prop, that has no engine or windscreen, to attach a ticket to, was sitting in theatre’s loading bay where it lived during the day whist matinee performances of the theatre’s pantomime Aladdin had been running, when the overzealous Traffic Warden attempted to give it a ticket, much to the shock and later amusement of the theatre staff and passersby."

Theatre Royal  Manager Chantelle Nolan said:- "Our backstage staff had just finished wheeling the cab round from the stage and were walking back toward Stage Door when they noticed a Traffic Warden stood in front of it with his note book and camera out about to give it a ticket. Mike, our stage manager quickly ran to him to explain that it’s a prop, in our loading bay and to put his hand through the space where the windscreen should be, to put him right or we’d have had quite an amusing explanation to the authorities on our hands! We’re just all glad that it wasn’t clamped so we can get it back into the theatre for this evening’s show!"

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