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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Is Gordon Brown the new Robin Hood?

My partner and I were talking this morning about a television programme he watched last night entitled Catastrophe. This is a five part series, presented by Tony Robinson on Channel Four, which investigates the history of natural disasters, from the birth of our planet through to the present day, which puts a new perspective on our existence – namely, that we are the product of catastrophe.

The second episode which my partner watched last night entitled "Snowball Earth", was about the greatest climatic disaster that affected Earth - around 650 million years ago (a little bit older than me then!). At this time, Earth was entombed in sheets of ice many miles deep, yet somehow in the depths of the ocean, life survived. The exploration of Alaska, where life has developed strategies to survive in extreme cold, without light, revealed strategies that scientists believe may have helped life survive in these extreme conditions.

The Australian outback provides clues to another part of the story - life didn't just survive, it flourished. The rocks in this region show signs of multi-cellular organisms that evolved after snowball Earth. All animals on the planet, including us, are descended from creatures like this.

This deep freeze (like our own recession) would have continued indefinitely were there not a catalyst for change (yes, we can!). With snowball Earth, that catalyst was a series of violent volcanic eruptions that began to dislodge the ice. The force of these eruptions must have been tremendous and unlike practically anything in living history, to begin to melt these miles and miles of ice, and I hope I never witness anything on this scale. I have been in Iceland when minor tremors have occurred (as they do on a daily basis), but have not seen anything major.

My point is, that despite the criticism of Gordon Brown's VAT reduction, this too could be seen as a catalyst to help pull us out of the recession. It may not seem like a lot, but from little acorns mighty oaks do grow, and as I say to my own customers, "Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves". He cannot reduce things any further than this, since like the rest of us, he also has debts to pay, national debts which are owed to the ever greedy and money grabbing banks (something which most of us know all about).

Financial systems, like everything else go through cycles, so in some ways this recession is to be expected, as part of that cycle. If anyone is to blame, it is the rich at the top of the pile, who through their greed and "have more" attitude have showed a breathtaking arrogance and unwillingness to share with others. Many of these people have learnt a hard lesson - as even they are not immune, and the higher you are the further you have to fall. I speak here as someone who is essentially on minimum wage (okay I get London weighting on top of this, or will do as soon as our Payroll Dept sort out the mess that was my last pay slip), but it is still minimum wage, and I would like to see these city whizz kids try living on this - it wouldn't keep them in champagne for even five minutes.

The VAT reduction is an attempt to help not just the rich business owners and their Directors, but also those at the bottom - the consumers who keep those businesses afloat and also those who work for them. Cynics have been saying that the results will be short lived, as VAT will increase again in 13 months - and it is not enough to make a difference, but if you had worked in my store last weekend, there was a marked difference in spending. It is true that other factors (like Christmas and the fact that everyone had just been paid) may have helped, but the comments that customers made indicated that a lot of it was also due to this reduction.

Of course it is not all good for business - retailers will be particularly badly hit - we spent most of yesterday changing price tickets for the whole store, at a time when we should have been selling. From our point of view, it could not have come at a worse time - but it is all in a days work.

It is estimated that this move will cost the Treasury around £12.5 billion, while it will save the average earner (who earns about twice what I do) around £170 a year. Retailers have been landed with an estimated £300 million bill over the coming two years, since they have to change price tickets and in some cases, accountancy systems.

Despite the negativity, I personally think it a bold step to take - and I sincerely hope that it won't backfire. We sell mostly large items in the market that I work in, and it is here that the savings can really be seen. Despite the extra work, hopefully this Christmas the retailers will be cracking open the champagne. We have some good incentives for the staff this year so the signs are good.

For the moment though, there is a heavy frost in the air, and I am waiting for the man to come and fix my windscreen. There goes the doorbell.

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