Column Eight: Smiles without service

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The Independent Online
As the banking union Bifu calls 19,000 TSB members out on strike in protest at 1,000 job cuts at the bank, it appears that at Barclays some of the staff, at least, share little of the same concern.

A customer visiting a branch in central London this week waited patiently for a cashier. This was not because of lengthy queues at the tills, for the bank was quite empty. Instead, she awaited the completion of a cheerful and detailed discussion by staff behind the windows of options available under the redundancy programme.

If only Prince Edward would get his act together, our economy could burst into life. In Japan, the expected wedding of Crown Prince Naruhito in May is predicted not only to stimulate the number of weddings but (more importantly) increase the GNP by nearly 1 per cent, spur housing investment and lead to spending of more than dollars 26bn.

Paper companies will benefit from printing commemorative books and magazines, retail companies from selling the inevitably tacky memorabilia, and electronics companies will soar as people flock to buy new televisions and video recorders to watch the wedding.

The numbers are not entirely plucked from the sky. Calculations are based on estimates that the 1959 wedding of Akihito, Naruhito's father and now emperor, increased consumer spending by 1.4 per cent.

Amood of realism has overtaken London estate agent Holden Matthews. The beloved agent-speak on flyers pushed through front doors - 'You will be delighted to hear that Japanese and American merchant banks are desperate to buy properties like yours now]]' - is in the past.

Now they're out to comfort sellers. 'Good agents are still selling properties . . . and the value of your home may not have fallen as far as you think. If you find yourself with a 'negative equity' problem we may be able to help.'

And in Putney, south-west London, estate agent Alan Fuller is even more realistic. One pounds 100,000 property is being marketed with the disarming caption: 'OK, so the windows are naff . . .'.