What a difference a day makes

Caroline Byrne, editor
Caroline Byrne, editor

There we were, minding our own business, heading into a recession, and now we’re rocketing through a global financial crisis and into a depression!



15 October 2008

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What a difference a day makes is right! I didn’t think, writing last month’s editorial, that the world could possibly have changed so much in that space of time. There we were, minding our own business, heading into a recession, and now we’re rocketing through a global financial crisis and into a depression!

Of course there were those among us who foretold the very events of last week – not to blow our own trumpets, but Dan White did say it in last month’s ShelfLife – but for the most part, this banking crisis has knocked a lot of people for six. Most especially the Irish banks that were telling us they were fine and had plenty of capital. Or the Government, which seemed to be under similar illusions.

With nothing but banking chaos and catastrophe hogging every available column inch, there’s been hardly any mention of other events. We’ve had to entertain ourselves by counting all the ways there are of expressing crisis in the banking sector. We’ve had; “the system’s exploded”, it’s “fallen off a cliff”, and my personal favourites at the moment, the situation’s “gone nuclear” or “gone crater,” the latter from the wonderfully expressive John McCain. All jokes aside though, there are some very serious challenges ahead, and equally serious questions to be asked of the people responsible. And questions to be asked of the elected representatives and so-called regulators who allowed it to happen.

Besides the bank crisis…

Last month, the social partners (indeed they’re definitely in this together) drew up another draft national wage deal to cover the next 21 months Towards 2016. In spite of calls for a wage freeze during this current, incredibly difficult period when many businesses are struggling to adjust to life in the credit crunch, not to mention successive cost hikes, none has been proposed.
Also barely mentioned of late is the budget, which looms large on the horizon. Like the deficit – €9.4 billion at the last count. We’ve been promised it will be brutal but we can only wait and see how and where this brutality will occur. Let’s hope the denial bug has finally passed for this Government and that it will finally do the right thing for Ireland’s future prosperity, i.e. correct the mistakes of past public spending sprees and help the weary business sectors that are now feeling the ‘correction’ of other sectors’ mistakes.

Speaking of which, last month the Competition Authority announced its (unsurprising) view that the retail planning guidelines need to be reviewed and the current caps lifted, in order to allow “the most price aggressive grocery retailers” into the market. In view of this, and other analyses about the current state of the Irish retail sector, we asked both local TDs and Ministers of State about their interest in the challenged grocery market, and what, if anything, they intend to do about it. The full responses from the Departments of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, and Environment, Heritage & Local Government, are available at our website (www.shelflife.ie) as are the result of our survey of local TDs.

Some good news (at last)

In other good news however, Gulf Ireland has opened for business and says it wants to change the face of Irish forecourt retailing, literally. Managing director Dermot Fallon talks about the new concept , which aims “to leave the money on the retailer’s pocket,” in what is certainly a new departure for petrol selling in Ireland.

Also very positive this month, I journeyed to Kenya to visit Unilever’s Kericho tea plantation. At the risk of sounding patronising, a visit to this beautiful but troubled African country does put the problems of the developed markets into perspective. Having said that however, my visit was an entirely positive experience, and a lesson that hope is a very powerful tool in even the bleakest circumstances. Unilever’s doing some pretty good work there too!

Finally, now that we have officially launched our own dedicated, fully searchable website, please visit the poll on our homepage, which can be answered or commented on anonymously, or become members and enter our forums, where you can ask a question, join a debate or start one. Most of all, we hope our readers use this site to communicate their views to us, which is after all, is what we’re all about.

Caroline Byrne



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