Rachel Moore

Shutters will be pulled up this weekend on seaside businesses along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast as the season kicks off

Never an easy living, it’s not exaggerating to say small businessowners who rely on seasonal trade are full of fear about what will happen between now and October.

Struggling before they even start is not an overstatement.

Those who survived Covid face the double whammy of the cost-of-living crisis and will lift those shutters with their hearts in their mouth.

They are squeezed to their pips by the costs of running their businesses, energy prices, inflation pushing food costs to their highest for 40 years and rent rises.

Margins are miniscule.

Most have nothing left to reinvest into their businesses or take a living for themselves.

Some are saying breaking even is all they can dream of.

The extra hour of daylight after the clocks sprung forward last week was greeted as a gift for their electricity bills more than anything else.

The collision of rising costs and customers paying less because they have less is really beginning to bite.

Those seaside businesses we all take for granted will open year after year are fighting for survival this year, hoping against hope their fears don’t come true.

They are entrepreneurs, inventive, resilient and determined, but are weary before the season starts.

The visitor economy for Norfolk and Suffolk counts for a big chunk of our regional prosperity. In seaside towns, about a quarter of jobs come from tourism.

This year business owners talk of taking on fewer staff and rolling up their sleeves themselves to cut overheads, which then limits their ability to develop their businesses.

Customers expect more of seaside businesses than the usual high street businesses – to open longer, deliver gold standard service and be affordable.

Customers with less in their pockets must be increasingly choosy about how it’s spent.

These businesses well luxuries and treats for family budgets where every penny must be accounted for.

At a pre-season event this week, the true depth of worry and dread of what lies ahead was laid bare as seaside business owners shared their worries and the true cost of running their enterprises, be it an attraction, a café, bucket and spade and gift shop, guest house, pub, hotel or arcade.

They spoke about taking no salary, sending staff home because there were no customers, and cutting staff.

At Easter – when seasonal businesses traditionally open their doors – the weather and if it would it bring in the crowds used to be the key issue.

This Easter, even if the weather smiles on our resorts, the big question is if people come, will they spend?

We’ve all heard families talking about making the most of free activities this year and cutting their cloth.

They might come for a seaside walk but will bring a picnic rather than pop into a cafe, avoiding the attractions and arcades, rationing their several annual visits to one summer visit.

Those who stay have less to spend after paying for accommodation.

Our seaside towns, outside the gilded rarefication of the ‘Chelsea on Seas’, have had a crescendo of tough times.

When half their border is sea, the view might be lovely, but economies are always squeezed, and many are ghost towns after 8pm. 

One business owner spoke passionately appealing to businesses to work together to find a way to attract people seafronts in the evenings. 

They were desperate for a year-round tourism economy, but t feared social issues, like asylum seekers housed in hotels and gangs on streets putting people off heading that way, were affecting their businesses and footfall.

Seaside towns have traditionally attracted migrants for work, had homelessness issues, a drugs culture and poverty.

Businesses want to help people and create jobs.

They want to do it together but are struggling with operational costs and cashflow but also having to meet workers’ demands for higher salaries. 

There is no easy fix. We all have a part to play in supporting these businesses to support their survival, even if it is the odd ice-cream there rather than from the supermarket, an attraction ticket and meal in an independent cafe rather than chain takeaway.

There are real families counting on that spend, however meagre.

Good plan to save money

The carrot of lower water bills if we use water butts and permeable driveways to slow rainwater from rushing into sewers lies ahead.

If Ofwat, the economic regulator for the water sector, has its way, water companies will cut bills if we use less water and look after the environment.

With the average annual water bill of £440 expected to rise to £700 in today’s money by 2050, it’s time to get those butts ready.

With all the rain recently, it feels like a good plan to save us money, but not one the money-hungry water companies are likely to embrace.

Gas and air shocker

Depriving birthing mothers of gas and air when the NHS maternity survey for 2022 showed 76% of women used it during labour is barbaric.

Some maternity units have suspended their use amid fears midwives and doctors were exposed to unsafe levels. 

Women speak of enduring Victorian births while surrounded by the latest technology,

If men were deprived of pain killers for the most painful yet natural process, it would have been switched back on weeks ago.