Belfast Telegraph

Our tills might not be ringing as loudly as in the past, but blaming Brexit and the Stormont crisis simply doesn't add up

By Lindy McDowell

Have you stopped buying stuff because of Brexit? No, me neither. I think, anyway... who can say for sure? It's not as if I've been keeping tabs on any dip in my household importation of baked beans and soft furnishings.

I definitely can't recall any moment when I've hovered over yet another tub of face cream promising instant, transformative beauty (they all lie) when I've thought to myself; "No, I can't be making this extravagant purchase now that Theresa is about to trigger Article 50."

And yet...

According to a new report, consumer confidence in Northern Ireland has been badly affected both by Brexit and political turmoil at Stormont.

Footfall in February was down 4% in retail outlets across Northern Ireland.

This statistic is described by business correspondents as "plunging", so it must be bad.

It is the biggest slump of any UK region. So presumably it must also be Stormont.

Really?

Call me an old cynic, but if "political turmoil at Stormont" truly did have such negative impact on our shopping habits here in Northern Ireland, our entire retail sector would have been in administration years ago.

We're so hardened to "political turmoil at Stormont", I very much doubt if it registers at the cash register.

And I honestly can't think of any one thing that people might decide to buy less of as a direct result of this latest local crisis.

Okay...wood chip pellets maybe.

So could there have been an alternative factor, or factors, influencing the February slump in trolley loading?

The weather perhaps?

Of course, I'm not an expert, unlike those who keep tabs on our spending habits (better than we do ourselves) and having collated and analysed the spreadsheets are able to determine not just the trends, but what lies behind, and prompts, those trends.

Me, I can only speak from experience.

As I say, I have not yet noticed myself hesitating anxiously before a till with, say, a bottle of plonk in hand, worrying about the implications of the small print in the Treaty of Lisbon.

Or whether Mr Brokenshire can sort out the latest impasse up at the Assembly.

Our local retailers face a tough old time here. I know that.

Far be it from me to trivialise or make light of the problems they face.

But if Fear of Brexit (FOB) really did have such a profound effect on consumers, you would think it would have registered more graphically in retail figures before now.

And I say this as someone who voted Remain.

I have many concerns about the UK leaving the EU. Not least about the government's ability to negotiate a good deal. Especially for us here in Northern Ireland.

But I don't think it helps anybody, this constant blaming everything on Brexit. Or Stormont. Or both together.

The economic experts, however, see this coming together of political crises as a perfect storm.

Finding a 4% slump, they have put that two and two together.

In their view, lack of consumer confidence has to result directly from EU anxiety and Stormont stress. But really, the things that most likely keep us away from the shopping aisles include more prosaic things.

Like lack of cash. Lack of a parking space. Cost of a parking space. Fear of bus lane fines. Ease of online shopping.

Some of these things the councils in many of our towns and cities could do something about. Yet they don't seem to be all that bothered.

The reasons for the fall in footfall may also lie somewhat closer to home.

But the people's Fear of Brexit has now become a convenient explanation for just about everything.

I just fear we are being FOBed off.

My son's hairdo really wasn't one to dye for

I did enjoy that story about the mother in Enniskillen who went nuclear after her son, Henry (left), was punished by his school for infringement of haircut regulations.

In her online outburst, she even had a bit of a country and western twang. Don't mess with Momma. In fairness, the boy's hair looked grand. But rules is rules. A lesson there.

My own son and his mate, at that age, tried to bleach their hair. They came out oranger than Donald Trump. The school suspended the pair of them.

But that, I recall, wasn't the real punishment.

The real punishment was the hairdo.

Will Osborne cut it in newspaper job?

George Osborne has created some controversy with his appointment as editor of the Evening Standard. It's not just the wider implications for journalism I worry about. It's the implications for the journalists on the paper.

This, let us not forget, was the austerity chancellor. If there was a penny to be cut, he was the boy to do it.

I am sure there is much unease among the paper's editorial staff for various reasons.

But I can think of one in particular.

You wouldn't want to be submitting your exes (newspaperspeak for expenses) to George Osborne.

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