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Thursday 18 January 2018

Agency like a bull in a china shop for family firms

Agency rules are like a bull in a china shop
Agency rules are like a bull in a china shop

Fiona O'Connell

MAYBE it's because they house the tools of my trade, but I'm a sucker for stationery stores. While some make a beeline for snazzy boutiques, I sprint towards these notebook nirvanas.

So I'm lucky this town has a fantastic shop that sells everything from pens to paperclips. It's where I went to get the makings for my Mother's Day card.

It opens five days a week, closing on Mondays so its romantic retailer can synchronise with his wife's day off from work.

They often spend their free time exploring other little emporiums in neighbouring counties. But their pastime may soon be past its sell-by date, for this shop owner has noticed a dramatic decline in the number of individually run outlets.

"All the family firms are disappearing," he says. "They are closing at such a rate that some town centres are crumbling."

He tells me about a business in a nearby city that has been going for generations, but which recently had to move from the main street to the cheaper rent offered by a less lovely location.

"It's been shoved off the street by foreign multinationals that don't have the same tax burdens as Irish-owned businesses," he says.

Things were different when he was growing up. His parents used to buy "absolutely everything" from their corner shop.

He holds the National Procurement Agency largely responsible for the closure of many local businesses. According to its website, the agency centralises the buying of "everything from pens and paper, through to ammunition and surgical equipment" in order to "deliver sustainable savings for the taxpayer" thereby "achieving maximum value for money and operational efficiency".

But this shop owner remains unimpressed. "Surely it's not really economical if it's closing down local family businesses?"

His own business didn't make the agency's grade, meaning he has lost some of his biggest individual customers. Several of his Irish suppliers also didn't come up to scratch.

"The agency's criteria lacks real discernment," he believes. "Thanks to it, we have the insane case in Ireland that all our paper comes from Australia, where the material is sourced from Asia."

He is going it alone in every sense. Even the paper he sells comes from Finland. "Firstly because it is European. Secondly, see all those stamps and codes on the box? They refer to environmental standards."

As far as this stationery shop owner is concerned, the agency's savings only look good on paper.

Sunday Independent

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