Britain's new boom industry - lame excuses

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The Independent Online
ECONOMISTS MAY be divided about whether Britain is drifting into recession, but one business is enjoying an unmistakeable and unprecedented boom. The manufacture of ludicrous excuses for falling sales is beating all production records as company bosses try to explain plummeting profits to investors.

Following the pioneering work by British Rail (remember the wrong type of snow?), some of our most prominent captains of industry are churning out world-beating lines faster than you can say: "The dog ate my homework, Sir."

Retailers are in the vanguard. Take Allied Carpets. Ray Nethercott, their managing director, was forced to issue a warning about why they were not shifting their rugs, declaring that: "We are just not getting the customers into the stores." Shaken by lingering doubts about the reasons for the poor performance of his company, Mr Nethercott did go that extra mile for the Great British Excuse and came up with a subsidiary reason - freak flooding over Easter, although one might suspect that carpets would be the first thing that drenched home owners might have to replace. No matter. Allied Carpets has many allies as it strives for the perfect alibi.

Sir Graham Kirkham, chief executive of DFS, the furniture chain, raised eyebrows when he blamed a series of one-off factors for poor sales. Having issued a warning in early March, he shocked shareholders with an even gloomier warning six weeks later, when he had to announce the first fall in profits for 28 years.

Instead of pointing to plausible factors such as the hikes in interest rates, Sir Graham blamed the hot weather in August last year; the death of Diana, Princess of Wales; the deadline for self-assessment tax forms on 31 January, and finally, Easter flooding (where have we heard that before?) and snow.

We may not have the world-class industries that we used to boast, and the ones we still have we no longer own.

But the secret of the British has always been their ingenuity. When it comes to lame excuses, our industrialists are no lame ducks, and can still beat the world.