| by Victor Cherubim


( December 24, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) All the traditional Christmas cheer is not a ghost of the past. It is still part of the London scene and why not? Where else can you have festive fun singing carols by candlelight, visit shows and pantomimes, go shopping and queue 24 hours to beat the sales, see glittering Christmas lights at Oxford Street and best of all watch the “Emptiest City in the world on Christmas Day”.

I may recall my life in the City at Christmas during my work days. Popping out for a sherry or wine with cheese and French bread, was not unusual. It was the way to say thanks for business placed in the City.

Then of course there was the Christmas office party, a bash as we knew it annually, when courtesies were exchanged with one and all from the Directors, down to the office cleaners.
Most firms did hardly skimp on these gatherings and unlike the stiff upper lip of bosses at normal times; Christmas party was largely a cosy, relaxed affair.

The bonus at Christmas was yet another tradition of work in the City. It was generous and counted for all the hard work put in. That was prior to the pensionable age raised to 69.
It was also another way of assessing how the firm was faring.

Today we are told, such seasonal “get together and goodies” in straitened times, is perhaps less ostentatious, although they exist all the same.

England has gone through a transformation one can hardly believe. But everyone wants to be in England, including the Bulgarians and Romanians. We could never have envisaged a Coalition government, as common as on the Continent. We never had the Bank of England rate as low as in Japan, at point 05 percent. We never had so much unemployment among youth. We are told the tradition to give senior employees turkeys to take home for the dinner table now hardly exist. The very best clients being wined and dined with coffee and cigars after "Cointreau" is also a thing of the past.

The buzz word hardly spoken, lest we offend President Francois Hollande, is “austerity Christmas”, as we raise our glasses with French bubbly. Many will know that since the credit crunch, not only have investment banks gone bust, names such as Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns but well known High Street names like Woolworths, Whittards, Tie Rack, Dolcis, Barratts, Jessops, HMV, Block Buster, MFI, JJB Sports, Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley, Dunfermline B.S., among others have all gone to the wall.

There has been a noticeable, unprecedented period of stagnant economic growth. Car makers have laid off workers. New terms of work like part time working, short time working, and home working, have been introduced, as the economic gloom has put mass escapism on the menu of life.

The Government has tried incentives to kick start the economy. “Funding for Lending,”“Help to Buy,” and other Enterprise Investment Schemes too, have been introduced. All the same there is the fear of not overheating the economy. To raise the retirement age, ending the ring fencing of NHS spending, ending Universal Benefit, relaxing planning laws to make construction possible, are among the few initiatives taken.

Whilst all these are in progress, paradoxically Accountancy firms (other than the Big Four-
PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY ) catering for small business are in a perilous state. According to the latest count 103 Accountancy firms are putting their shutters up in the New Year. Firms are at risk of losing an important source of business, because of the new Auditing Rules that came into force in October 2012, which allowed more small businesses to be exempt from their annual audit.

Again, Legal Aid which fanned legal practice both for barristers and solicitors, is now regulated to such an extent that Barristers Chambers refuse briefs without Legal Aid. They claim “abuse of process,” with defendants unable to obtain a fair trial.

Further, the Medical profession, particularly G.P’s surgeries, which were well supplemented during the past Labour Government, have now to “bend down” to regulation, for financial, time and patient management.

Religious services whilst still attracting worshippers at Christmas, with overcrowded churches. are having to contend with dwindling congregations during the rest of the year and make do with less church services due also to acute shortage of clergy and pastors.

With all these burdens on the people, there is a resilience which is difficult to fathom. Economic sustainability on the domestic front is a key issue for next Christmas, for the next government at the next election.

With battering heavy winds and squalls of persistent rain added to the Christmas fayre, there is no let up of either carol singers or credit card payments at year end sales.

Send us some of the decent weather, the bonhomie of Christmas in Sri Lanka, in exchange
for some of our jolly decent chaps, “Perhaps, we can call it quits at March in Geneva”?


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