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Michael O'Loughlin on the rising cost of living

I must admit I really enjoy the summers in the UK. On recent weekends I’ve managed to get out on my road bike quite a lot. I’m not talking “Tour de France” level but 30-40 miles in the Buckinghamshire countryside works great for thinking time or as we say nowadays “Mental Health”. I really enjoy working but as I get older I can’t take my fitness for granted and finding time to exercise is very important. 

Like most of us, in recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the cost of living increases. Having lived through a number of challenging financial periods, I have some experience to draw on. My first experience was leaving school in Dublin in 1985, when unemployment was at 20%. I describe this time to my children as “black and white” and it rained a lot, although I was lucky as I lived at home with my parents and managed to get a job, so the trick was to keep working. 

Thankfully this was followed by a boom in the 1990s nicknamed the “Celtic Tiger” when Ireland became the poster boy of Europe. I remember borrowing a significant amount of money from the bank only to receive a phone call six months later to say I never actually signed for it, such was the lax approach towards lending. This eventually led to a collapse in 2009 where the country suffered an unmerciful crash that affected the life of every man, woman and child. House values dropped by 50% and unemployment raged. Only now have things got back to normal. 

So what happened to our sector during these periods? And what could that mean for the UK today? During all these challenging periods the consumer never deprived themselves of their little treats, their favourite bar of chocolate or a beer on a Friday. We did, however, see a decline in big ticket items such as new cars and fancy holidays. The consumer tightened their belt but tried to maintain a decent day-to-day living standard. As a business we continued to invest and plan for the future. Of course the UK of 2022 is a very different place, we have full employment, record economic growth and the fifth biggest economy in the world but my message is still the same. Continue to invest, plan for the future and the consumer will keep treating themselves to the small ticket items that we all sell.

Published date:
May 1, 2022