Sunday, 26th March 2017
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Michael Garland,

bizBoost Chair,

Waterford Business Group

Time to support our own!

One Swallow doesn’t make a summer!

It is not one good quality that makes a man!

These are certainly two sayings that could well be used to paraphrase the Festive shopping period in Waterford City. Some, quite wrongly assumed, that as there appeared to have been large numbers of people visiting Waterford in December, taking in the wonders of Winterval, exploring the architecture of Ireland’s oldest city, visiting our retailers, that businesses have, figuratively speaking, made a “killing!"

This of course could not be further from the truth. Many businesses have done well over the festive period, with the hotels, restaurants and entertainment establishments being particularly buoyant. There can be no doubt, that general retail had at best flat sales when compared to 2016 and some sales were even slightly down on last year. Many will ask just how this could be, when guesstimated numbers for Winterval could be in excess of half a million, going on the 2015 figures (we are still awaiting the official bean counter announcement)!

All the data released so far, will back up the fact that Christmas sales were, for many retailers, very disappointing. As these could account for up to 30% of a businesses’ annual turnover, the real cost of a poor Christmas, in terms of sale, hits home during the months of January, February and early March.

There are many contributing factors to these poor sales and there can be no doubt that countless shoppers, are simply holding on to more of their hard earned cash due to continued uncertainty in the economy. In addition, Waterford and across the wider southeast, we continue to be a low wage economy with higher unemployment, when compared to national averages. This in turn means that we have less disposable income to spend in our local shops. After all, if you only have €50 of disposable income in Waterford, compared to €150 in another city, then who will have a stronger, better economy – it really is that simple. WE have far less to go around.

For years we have suffered, as regional strategy after regional strategy has left Waterford City and the southeast’s economy trying to play catch-up. We have been running the 100m, against the likes of Mr Bolt. But we have been wearing wellies that are two sizes too big, filled with custard and our lane has been coated in treacle! It is proving impossible to get on even terms, let alone be in with a chance of winning the race.

To throw even more fuel on the fire, we have very low third level attainment and we are the only region not to have a University. This in turn means that we have limited higher education capacity for our children. The lack of IDA visits is a constant thorn in our side and for the period 2011-2015 the southeast accounted for only 4% of new IDA jobs created. There are many other metrics that clearly show we have much to do to get back on an even keel. But then, you, the readers, already know this! Don’t you?

Here is the crux of the issue. Getting people to talk openly and honestly about where our economy is, proves very, very difficult, time and time again. There are very few people willing to speak up, because they somehow fear that speaking the truth, will sound negative! Yet, our very own excellent academics, in WIT, have been saying the above for many years. So why can’t we be more honest and say it like it is? If our businesses do not start speaking loudly enough to be heard, then many of those in power (locally and nationally) will, wrongly assume, that Waterford’s economy is “booming". Come the Council budget next year, scores of our Councillors will vote for commercial rates increases. Maybe increased car parking charges, increased property taxes and who knows what else.

We need to stop being the “Quiet people of Waterford" and start to shout just a wee bit louder. In the meantime get out and support your local businesses – because once they are gone they are gone!

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