East Anglia is desperately in need of a spending spree - here's why
- Credit: Archant
With nowhere to go and no one to see, the British public has been racking up the savings during a year’s worth of lockdowns.
However while pub closures have been bemoaned and hairdressers sorely missed, consumers have got used to seeing their cash staying in the bank – an estimated total worth £180bn.
Economists are urging shoppers to make the most of businesses reopening and inject some of that money from under the mattress into the parched high street.
Indeed Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, said last week: “I very much want as much as possible to be spent — that’s what creates the demand and the jobs to help those who may have lost their jobs, who may have suffered a cut in income as a result of the crisis.”
Richard Ross, director of Norwich financial planners Chadwicks, agrees: “The balance between saving and spending is fundamental to the long-term prospects for the economy.
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“Savings and investments by individuals provide the capital needed by companies to invest in the technological advances that will support incomes in the future. The economy, like so many things in life, is about getting the balance right. In the short-term, many businesses are crying out for people to slacken their purse strings and are praying for a post-lockdown splurge.
“While there is likely to be a bounce-back in consumer spending once the restrictions are lifted, it is in danger of being a sugar rush – the benefits will be short-lived.
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“There is arguably more benefit to be gained from encouraging businesses to start digging into their reserves to invest for the future.
“The budget made some overtures to encouraging greater corporate investment but real progress will only come when the mood changes and firms feel more confident in the future.”
Across East Anglia bosses are hoping - and indeed relying - on a summer spendathon.
Brendan Padfield, owner of The Unruly Pig, a gastropub in Woodbridge, expects sweet sound of ringing tills to happen naturally as soon as hospitality venues can reopen.
“There’s a tranche of society whose income hasn’t been affected at all by the pandemic and they’ll be wanting to get out and spend,” he said.
“That spend is critical to the chancellor’s plans and it’s also critical to small businesses like me.“Furlough effectively ends in July. Currently I’m paying 16.9pc — in national insurance and pension — by September it will be 36.9pc.
“The majority of small businesses can’t afford that. To keep the team intact and avoid layoffs that post-lockdown spend is critical to me. If people don’t buy, we don’t survive.”
Despite the gravity of the situation Mr Padfield said he did not think a campaign driving people to spend was necessary and the government should instead focus on the vaccination programme.
“The vaccine programme and its success will instil confidence in people. I think a big Lord Kitchener style campaign might be counter-productive.
“I think it’s going to happen naturally. People have been cooped up for over a year. They want to get out and treat themselves.”
But others say they will have to wait a while longer to feel the effects of this pot of cash.
William Coe, of Coes department store in Ipswich, said: “It’s not a line in the sand and everything returns to normal, we need the economy to return to a functioning level and for us then to go along with that.
“People have to have a reason to buy. Last year, many people did not have a reason to buy for the simple reason they weren’t going out anywhere. And, obviously, our sales suffered.
“The opening on April 12 is fantastic — and it can’t come soon enough — but people still need a reason to buy.
“We also need people to go out and socialise, go on holiday, go to weddings and all those to come back to drive the demand for clothes.”
Mr Coe said the beginning of this process had already happened with the reopening of schools this week, but he accepted that once the economy had fully reopened there was no guarantee that demand would be what it once was.
However for bigger ticket items the enquiries are already rolling in, and independents are fairing better than their national chain counterparts.
Trevor Milton is one of the directors of Hellesdon Leather, a furniture store based in Norwich, who said thanks to his 24-hour delivery guarantee and stockpiled warehouse, April is set to be a “bonanza”.
He said: “We’ve moved our January sale to April. January is always a really busy time for us after Christmas but of course we couldn’t open because of lockdown.
“So we moved our sale to when we can open and I think it’s going to be absolutely crazy. People have been stuck at home looking at their old furniture and they have a bit of money in the bank so they’re thinking of updating the place with a new suite.
“There have also been worldwide shortages of foam and supplies for sofas so we’ve seen a lot of competitors struggling with lead times so I absolutely packed our warehouse to the brim when I had the chance.
“We want our customers to know that when they come in they can be guaranteed what they want to buy, delivered within 24 hours.”
Car sales are also beginning to pick up - especially for new and electric vehicles - said Kevin Abbs, director of car dealership Crayford and Abbs which has sites in Holt and Mundesley.
He said: “January was absolutely dire. However, we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel and the enquiries are starting to ramp up to a lift off when we can open our showrooms.
“Most of the enquiries have been for new cars and electric or hybrid vehicles, as well as family vehicles. I think it is definitely the case that people haven’t been going on holidays and spending as much money so they are looking at getting a new car.
“Of course, all of our enquiries and sales thus far have been online – it’ll be good to have a mix again when we can open because I think people have missed demonstrations and seeing the models.
“At the moment although we are seeing an uplift we’re not at the same level we were last year - because the whole business was booming at that point in time.
At the moment our uplift in sales is getting our heads above water as opposed to an increase, but it’s a good place to start to get back up to speed by December.”
However the savings trend could provide stimulus for one of the country’s biggest markets: housing.
Tim Dansie, a director at estate agents Jackson-Stops in Ipswich, said: “We can already see that these savings are driving the housing market. We’ve got a lot of buyers at the moment — we’ve got more buyers than sellers.
“I’m expecting exactly the same to happen as when we came out of lockdown in 2020. The market went nuts.
“There was a huge amount of activity and because it all gets condensed into a huge amount of activity and because it all gets condensed into a shorter amount of time it gets quite manic.”
According to Mr Dansie, it is not just estate agents who are seeing this boom.
He said: “If people stay in their homes, they are likely to extend them. Everyone has been looking at the same four walls and thinking to themselves ‘what am I going to spend my money on?’”
“I’ve just spoken with a guy this morning who supplies kitchens and he’s been busier.
“Our hot tub guy did nine months’ worth of business in three months after the end of the lockdown last year.”
However Mr Ross warned: “While many commentators expect a short-term jump in inflation as the economy readjusts to a post-pandemic world, if there are signs that longer-term inflation is starting to take hold then the likely policy response will be to increase interest rates.
“This will obviously hit borrowers but, as importantly, it will also lead to downward pressure on asset prices, especially housing and shares. The golden rule on your house is that it is somewhere to live, not an investment.
“If you are at the stage of life where you want to buy a house then base that decision on your need not on trying to second guess the market – but make sure you get a fixed-rate mortgage.”