The numbers game

We're all familiar with the dangers of lies, damned lies and statistics, but the numbers surrounding the UK economy don't look good at the moment.

As I write this, I haven't seen the details of George Osborne's emergency Budget, announced after we go to press, but we all know that Britain has a massive budget deficit for the new Chancellor to tackle.

The national debt is approaching a trillion pounds, or 60% of the national income. These numbers are almost too big to take in, but they don't half sound bad.

Trying to make sense of it all, I went to the Office of National Statistics website, and it surprised me to find that private sector employment grew in the first quarter of 2010. Public sector employment is dropping (perhaps no bad thing, given the deficit), but this month showed a net rise in jobs for the first time since the credit crunch hit.

But there's bad news, too. All the new jobs created in the first quarter were part-time, as this is all that the economy can support. And the public sector still employs one in every five workers in the UK, so a squeeze on jobs here will have a big impact on shoppers' spending.

According to retailers I have spoken to recently, sales at local stores have held up well, but while people will continue to buy food and drink, and will hopefully do so locally, it looks like there will be even less money around in the next year, so c-stores will need to continue to focus on value for money to maintain a healthy business.

Leading the group

Group trading is a defining feature of the independent sector in this country, but the positives of bringing lots of independent businesses together has a drawback in that there are always going to be differences of opinion.

Nisa-Today's has had more than its fair share of public rows in the past, and RedOrange's decision to end its direct relationship with Nisa and work through Costcutter in the future is another one for management to deal with.

Very little will change in the big picture of cases moving through the independent supply chain as a result of this development. RedOrange was formerly a group within a group, now it is a group within a group within a group.

More significant, though, is the statement this makes about Nisa's strategy of developing its own symbol group. As it pushes ahead in this area, many old alliances and trading arrangements will come under pressure. But the Nisa symbol also has huge potential, so a little pain now may bring a lot of gain in the future.

I believe in choice, and I think RedOrange has made the right one for its members. But I also believe that Nisa is helping to create better choices for retailers, and that's got to be a good thing.