Ipswich shoppers told to spend, spend, spend!

A CALL has gone out today for people to dig into their pockets this Christmas and spend with confidence in Ipswich.

A CALL has gone out today for people to dig into their pockets this Christmas and spend with confidence in Ipswich.

With just 18 shopping days left until Christmas, the state of the economy has led retailers to predict a tough time on the high street and fears have been raised that Ipswich could be affected.

Concerned with the potential consequences of poor festive trading in the town, Ipswich leaders are attempting to galvanise shoppers into spending their cash locally.

While it is conceded that people need to be cautious with their finances it has been claimed that personal finances in the town are generally in good shape and decent levels of spending over Christmas will pay dividends for the future of Ipswich.

Reasons to shop have also been boosted with last week's 2.5 per cent drop in VAT kicking in today.

Meanwhile many retailers are offering big discounts in a bid to attract custom.

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Calls for consumers to get spending again do not have universal backing - many financial experts saying now is the time to concentrate on paying off debt and saving cash to ensure individuals have a safety net.

However, other analysts argue the key to avoiding a protracted recession is for banks to begin lending again and consumers to have the confidence to spend on the high street at usual levels.

Paul Winter, chief executive of Ipswich Building Society, said there is potential for people in the area to spend at a relatively high level this Christmas but conceded that fears about the economy continue to concern.

Despite a generally worsening economic outlook in the UK and worldwide, he said Ipswich and the surrounding area is well-set to weather the storm if people take a sensible approach.

“I don't think we are seeing quite the downturn in the local economy that is happening elsewhere,” he said.

“Clearly the retail sector is quite pressured as we have seen from the announcements by Woolworths and MFI last week but the local economy seems to be holding up quite well.

“It is pretty diversified and there is no one very big employer that dominates the region

“In 2008 we (Ipswich Building Society) have seen record inflows from savers - some is down to people moving money around when they realised what the government compensation scheme meant

“People have been thinking that maybe the rainy day is here so they are saving as much as they can rather than rely on credit.

“Our experience of local people is that they are much less likely to use credit than perhaps other parts of the country.

“From that point of view people can afford to spend this Christmas because they have money set aside.

“We have also seen significant reductions in interest rates in the last two months so those with fixed-rate mortgages will see money outgoing on their mortgages going down quite sharply.

“That is a very positive thing.”

Mr Winter's words of optimism are supported by Ipswich Borough Council's chief executive James Hehir, who points to the fact that investment in Ipswich is continuing.

Mr Hehir pointed to the opening of a new Glasswells store in the town, Tesco earmarking a possible news store in St Matthews Street as well as new jobs being created.

“Things aren't as bad as people think they are,” he said.

“It's important people spend money in the town centre but it's also important that they look to go to pantomimes, theatre productions and continue to go and support the football team.

“It all puts money into the local economy.”

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said he is keen for people to shop locally this Christmas but added it is vital people to do so “within their means”.

“If we support our local shops rather than spend that money outside the county we are helping to maintain businesses and therefore maintain employment.

“This would mean businesses can expand or at least see off the worst effects of the recession as it hits Suffolk.

“I would however encourage people to spend within their means.

“In these difficult days we have all got to live as far as possible within our means - the government, the county council and individuals.”

The combined call to consumers in Ipswich follows a rallying cry made last month by leading town centre figure Paul Clement.

Mr Clement, director of Ipswich Central, said he fears retailers in Ipswich will face a tough time next year unless people in the town back high street stores this Christmas.

Are you planning on tightening your belt this Christmas or will you be spending at usual levels? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk