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Southport Reporter

Edition No. 85

Date:- 07 February 2003

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Shoppers spending through the roof

Report by Dominic Bonner

THE bank of England’s decrease in interest rates benefiting manufacturing industries may have averted current economic opinion that the crash of 1929 was inevitable in this country. But it would seem this economic front is not our only worry as shoppers go on a buying frenzy.

Spending in the northwest reached a mammoth 590 million pounds in January, which saw an ironic lull in buying of goods in the traditional festive period where such a figure would be considered a "norm".

On a national basis statistics from a survey by Sainsbury’s reveal that as many as 24.9 million people bought goods in the January sales showing an increase of a 6.4 percent higher turnover than that of December.

Evidence of the research suggests such buying may prove to be ‘retail therapy’ from earlier gloom or reluctance to spend, where bargains certainly have perked up our attitudes to spending. 

Recent economic figures reveal that low interest rates and January sales fueled credit card borrowing to astronomical levels of 47 percent of what we spent. As nationally, we borrowed some 289 million on credit cards. 

But a grim warning was issued by Joanne Mallon of Sainsbury’s bank concerning borrowing, "any people have taken advantage of the bargains. But much of their expenditure has been placed on credit cards and people need to make sure that they are paying competitive rates of interest if they don’t clear their balances."

Such record levels of borrowing may yet to prove to have a double-edged sword as the economy looks set to take a down turn in the middle of the year. And may leave debt crisis at level similar to the black Monday in 1988 where the economy took years to recover from overspending.

But with the Bank of England likely to go even further down the road of decreasing the national interest rates to benefit industry. The lure of the credit card companies offering more and more customers with competitive deals for borrowing money. It would seem that we are likely to keep on spending for more months to come.

Report with thanks to the HSE

THE Government’s review of ELCI (Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance) is a unique opportunity for a fundamental reform of the system of compensation for workplace injury and ill health, Chair of the Health and Safety Commission, Bill Callaghan, said today. 

Speaking at the Iron Trades Conference in London Mr. Callaghan gave his personal view of what the review might achieve. He said:-

“The Government review offers an opportunity that will not arise again for years. We need to use this opportunity to identify options for reform.”

He added that ELCI was just one element of a wider system for insurance and compensation and he was pleased that the government was proposing to consider the whole of current employer liability and worker compensation arrangements. His own view was that short-term technical adjustments would not solve the problems. 

He said the present system has many disadvantages:- “It does not drive better health and safety performance or rehabilitation. It deals with consequences rather than prevention. It is not economically efficient. The costs of the system are out of line with the compensation payouts, and include a heavy element of legal fees. Neither does it cope well with occupational diseases that might have a long latency period. Recent high profile crises in the industry had demonstrated that.”

Mr. Callaghan went on to look at the possible options for reform which he believes range from short term arrangements which help create better incentives, to placing stronger incentives on employers by making them bear more of the costs of health and safety failure.

“If the costs of health and safety failures were better known and borne by those who created the risks, a better and more efficient allocation of resources could follow. And the business case for investment in health and safety would be clearer to all organisations – remember that prevention and rehabilitation provides savings, so it is not all about new financial burdens”.

Mr. Callaghan said that we need to ask some fundamental questions. For example, are adversarial relationships the most efficient way to secure compensation or encourage prevention or rehabilitation? Radical options should not be ruled out and a “no fault” system explored.

He concluded:- “Today I have outlined how we might make work a better place to be - a better and safer place to be for all those workers who now leave employment because of sickness and ill health. It is also about a more efficient system. Ensuring that costs are recognised and borne by those who create them. Creating incentives for good health and safety performance. Penalising poor performers.

I do not minimise the difficulty of reform. But if we get this right we could make a real difference.”

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