EXCLUSIVE REPORT: Royston reacts to recession news

BUSINESS leaders and politicians believe Royston will weather the economic storm claiming the news the country has fallen back into recession is “the darkness before the dawn”.

The Office of National Statistics last week revealed the economy had stalled and the country was officially in a double-dip recession.

Although unemployment figures in Royston remain above the national average a number of businesses have failed over the past few months, leaving holes in the High Street.

Among the closures is the Dish Restaurant and Peacocks store, which was axed after the company went into administration.

Combined with the ever rising price of fuel and consumables people are feeling the pinch.

David Jones, of Royston, has been out of work since an injury at work left him disabled two-years-ago and is fearful for the High Street’s future.

The 62-year-old told The Crow: “I’ve not got work at the moment, I can’t work, but I’m trying to find a job and it is impossible. My wife is trying to find a job as well and it is impossible.

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“You apply for jobs and you don’t get answers back because there are too many people applying for jobs.

“In Royston one shop opens and another shuts the next day. It’s not getting any better.”

Shopkeepers in the town have also expressed concerns at the future with the store manager at Knibbs Meat Safe noticing falling numbers on the High Street.

“We’re still doing quite a good trade but there is a noticeable decline,” said Kris Ransom.

“People are being more cautious and watching their pennies.”

However the chairman of the Royston and District Chamber of Commerce believes the impact of the recession on the town will be negligible but warns times will remain tough.

“I don’t think it will affect Royston. Not being flippant, but we are talking about minor percentage details which are on a much wider scale,” said chairman Rupert Matthews.

“I think overall things are tough for business in the town and town centre but they have been for a number of years. But I do think there are good reasons to be positive and when you look at other towns we have less empty property.

“I know there is the Peacocks store that’s empty and Marcelle but for everyone like that there is a new business coming into the town, I think it was a coup to get Costa Coffee in.”

Mr Matthews also praised the work of Royston First and reassured residents there are “people who care” about the town and are trying to stimulate the economy.

He highlighted the ‘Free after 3’ scheme which enables shoppers to park for free after 3pm, although he warned “no-one can take business for granted”.

Geraint Burnell, town centre manager and Royston First manager, said: “The mood seems to be that although things are tight and everybody’s watching costs extra closely, most businesses are hanging in there.

“A number of companies have spoken about having to reduce margins and as a result managing to maintain levels of business.

“I think there’s little doubt that many retailers are feeling the pressure of reduced spending, competition from the internet with other factors such as unpredictable weather patterns.”

Royston’s Conservative MP Oliver Heald downplayed the impact of the recession claiming government policies were starting to alleviate the country’s fiscal woes.

He said: “The fact about it is that it is a very shallow dip and the other information that’s coming in suggests that the economy is going to grow more this year than people thought.

“I think what we are seeing is the beginnings of quite a gradual improvement.

“If we look at unemployment that fell quite sharply this month… I think it is the darkness before the dawn.”

He added: “We’re lucky in Royston that we have a highly skilled workforce and good employers and I would expect that will continue.

“I’m not saying we are not going to have to work harder because we do, but I think the news we are getting is positive.”

But the Royston Labour Party believes the cause of the problems can be placed solely at the feet of the government.

Party spokesman Les Baker said: “We are beginning to see a government which is becoming more out of touch with the public. It is pursuing policies that are not solving our economic problems, but simply making matters worse.

“We have now seen Britain’s economy shrink by two per cent and the austerity policies have returned the country to recession.

“The policies of cuts to spending and increasing taxes has not worked and all we have seen is extra borrowing of �150 billion to pay for higher unemployment and economic failure.

“There appears to be no plans for growth or for investment to create jobs, which is absolutely vital to the recovery.”