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Painful effects of a knee-jerk decision

Maybe we will see huge queues at checkouts at Christmas after all. Not because there will be a much hoped for surge in shopping activity (although there is still time and I am ever the optimist) but because it takes an absolute age to buy anything these days.

Everywhere you go, flustered sales assistants are fumbling with calculators to work out your “friends and family” discount and the VAT reduction and then grappling with the till to get it to accept the fact that while the barcode says £100, what you’re actually going to pay is £73.47 or some similarly bizarre sum.

I bought a new purse this week (which on reflection is a curious thing to decide you need in a credit crunch) and the process was so tortuous that I was tempted to offer to pay the full original price as the time saving felt more valuable than the cash saving.

But while this is a logistical horror for retailers here, spare a thought for those in the Republic of Ireland. Their economy is already in the full throes of a recession and with the pound so weak against the euro and the UK VAT cut on top of that, Irish shoppers need only nip over the border to Northern Ireland to make significant savings.

Bus firms are even putting on special services to Belfast for that very reason.

I am told that this is the law of “unintended consequences”; when someone takes an action with good intentions to solve one problem (eg cutting VAT to stimulate consumer confidence) but creates a potentially bigger problem elsewhere (eg costly logistical nightmares for retailers who are already under the cosh). Funny how these unintended consequences nearly always emanate from knee-jerk decisions, isn’t it?

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