Hertfordshire businesses ‘in limbo’ after recession

The recession is over – but for how long?

WHEN it finally came, few were surprised and even fewer were celebrating.

The announcement that Britain was out of its worst recession since World War Two was met collectively with a rather cautious welcome.

Indeed, the economic growth that Britain experienced in the last three months of 2009 – a meagre 0.1 per cent, which was less than many had expected – is hardly conclusive evidence that everything is back on track.

But nevertheless, it does end an 18-month period of consecutive retraction, and that at least, say Hertfordshire businessmen, is something to cheer.

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“It’s obviously good news because it helps put confidence back into the economy, but it depends very much on what part of the economy you work in,” said Peter Brooks, chairman of the Welwyn Hatfield Chamber of Commerce and manager of the Howard Centre in WGC.

“From the perspective of our own shopping centre, we had a very good Christmas.

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“But although superficially sales results have been good, that has been arrived at by people working shorter hours or losing their jobs.

“It’s going to be some time before we can start celebrating and say we’re truly out of the woods.”

It seems many businesses are half expecting a “double dip” – a brief recovery followed quickly by another decline.

Nabil Lababedi, general manager of Best Western Homestead Court Hotel in WGC, is one of them.

“I believe there will be a double dip,” he said. “I can’t see things really picking up until around the end of this year.”

The reason, he agreed, is that following a traditional period of frivolous spending at Christmas – and 2009 was a record year for some retailers – the seasonal boom is followed by a time where people usually cut back and recover their costs.

“January and February are always fairly quiet,” Mr Lababedi said.

Tim Hutchings, the chief executive of the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “My main concern is the bits of legislature going through which will make it hard for businesses to employ people, like the one per cent increase in national insurance; it’s ridiculous.

“Businesses just need to be left alone, and the sooner they are the better.

“But we’re in limbo right now. We don’t know what a Government post-election will do in terms of spending cuts.”

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