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Shropshire Star comment: Authorities must help out firms

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

Is the economy doing well, or is it doing badly? Or is it simply doing differently?

A range of indicators are pointing to a mixed picture and how you read them may reflect whether you are a glass half full or a glass half empty person.

The economy is not something static. It is dynamic, and changing, with many diverse strands to it, so to take a health check is rather like taking a health check of a group of people in that some will be doing better than others.

Broadly the retail sector has caught a chill in more ways than one, as the so-called Beast from the East is being blamed in part for a huge drop in half-year profits for Debenhams. They dropped from £87.8 million to £13.5 million over the 26 weeks to March 3, which included a trading period when the bad weather forced the temporary closure of about 100 stores.

Debenhams has a store at Telford shopping centre, and the difficulties being faced by High Street and retail centre stores are well known. House of Fraser, which has stores in Telford and Shrewsbury, has announced a restructuring plan which has raised question marks about what the future holds.

There is plenty of gloomy news out there to be seized if you want to. But put on your happy hat and you will see that a new castings plant in Telford officially opened this week which has created around 300 jobs. This is a good news story from the traditional manufacturing side of the economy.

Then there are the new and niche sectors where entrepreneurs and innovators are flourishing. Step forward Barnutopia, near Oswestry, which is in the glamping game and is aiming to become a wedding and event venue.

Have a look at the Vibrant Economy Index, which looks at six performance indicators including prosperity, and you will find Shropshire at seventh in the West Midlands and 126th in England, out of 324. Telford & Wrekin does less well, at number 219. It could do better, but it’s not a disaster.

There is nothing written in stone that all businesses must succeed, so there are always going to be ups and downs. To find out what is happening you look for a sense of the overall climate. There are rain showers over retail, and the government and councils need to consider what reasonable steps can be taken to help them through the storm.

Elsewhere there are continuing uncertainties because of the B-word, but it seems the underlying fundamentals are strong enough to give some confidence for the future.

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