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Dan White: Our retailers should quit moaning and cut prices

Dan answer your financial questions

AS someone who occasionally shops in the North, will the increase in the UK VAT rate at the end of this month and the reduction in Republic alcohol excise duties in last month’s Budget make much of a difference? Will it still be better value to do my shopping in the North or should I do more of my shopping at home?

SHEILA

Ever since Finance Minister Brian Lenihan increased the VAT rate to 21.5pc and slapped another 50 cent on to a bottle of wine in the October 2008 Budget it has all been one-way traffic so far as cross-border shopping is concerned.

The fact that the Irish tax increases came at the same time as UK Chancellor Alistair Darling temporarily cut the British VAT rate to just 15pc and the value of sterling against the euro collapsed, made the cross-border option irresistible for hundreds of thousands of Irish shoppers with an estimated quarter of a million of us having done at least some of our shopping north of the border last year.

Now there are clear signs that the worm is beginning to turn. The UK VAT rate went back up to 17.5pc at the beginning of this month, which along with the Republic's VAT rate cut narrows the North-South VAT differential from 6.5pc to 3.5pc. Lenihan also slashed Irish excise duties on alcohol by a fifth in last month's Budget.

Not only did last month's excise duty cuts undo the October 2008 increase in wine excise duties, they also slashed the cross-border spirits price gap. Further eroding the attractiveness of Northern shopping has been the weakening of the euro against sterling in 2009.

After starting the year at over 96p, the euro had dropped to under 89p by the end of 2009. This decline in the value of the euro against sterling makes it dearer for southern shoppers in Newry, Enniskillen and other Northern towns.

Just for good measure there is also clear evidence that the overall price gap between Ireland and the UK is narrowing, with British prices rising by 1.5 per cent over the past year, according to the EU's standardised inflation statistics, while Irish prices fell by 2.8pc over the same period, a 4.3pc gap.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the cross-border price gap for many everyday items is still far wider than can be explained by higher southern excise duties or VAT rates, exchange rate movements or, that old IBEC stand-by, the higher cost of doing business in the Republic.

All of which means that, while it is not as cheap as it was to shop in Northern Ireland, there are still plenty of bargains to be had over the border. Now that Brian Lenihan has done his bit, it is high time that retailers in the Republic stopped whinging and passed on the benefits of cheaper sterling to their customers.

Now that Dunnes Stores has stopped accepting personal cheques, is it time to tear up my cheque book and switch to electronic payment methods instead?

NOW that Dunnes Stores has stopped accepting personal cheques, is it time to tear up my cheque book and switch to electronic payment methods instead?

MAURA

Dunnes Stores, the country's largest domestically owned retailer, stopped accepting personal cheques at the beginning of this month.

In doing so it was following the example of many other leading retailers.

While the Irish government has yet to follow the example of the British government -- which has announced plans to scrap cheques entirely by 2018 -- it can be surely only a matter of time.

For anyone who hasn't already got a debit card such as Laser, there will be soon no option if you want to avoid using cash or credit card to pay for goods or services.


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