James Moore: Stevenson will make hay while the rain falls

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The Independent Online

Outlook: So congratulations Barry Stevenson. The former Wyevale Garden Centre and M&S retail boss has resurfaced, landing on his feet as the boss of Albemarle & Bond, the fast growing chain of pawnbrokers. Albemarle, and rival H&T, are businesses whose time has come and they are both busily opening shops in recession wracked town centres up and down the country.

Their success is partly due to the high gold price. But there's another driver too that is helping a diverse stable of other businesses which also specialise in offering high interest loans to people with low incomes, such as hire purchase shops like Brighthouse or door to door lenders like Provident Financial.

They might look very different from the outside but they run on the same fuel – namely the lack of availability of credit for people who often have a legitimate (sometimes desperate) need for it. Such companies like to claim that they are therefore offering a service and filling a gap in the market that would otherwise be taken up by loan sharks. They might have a point but they might just be highlighting a problem.

There surely ought to be a better way for people who need cash to be able to access it rather than having to pay the appalling rates these sort of companies typically charge (or having to surrender much loved and cherished family heirlooms). But so far government efforts to encourage more savoury institutions such as credit unions have proved less than successful. The report card reads "must try harder". Until that changes, the likes of Mr Stevenson will make hay while the economic rain falls. How much hay, of course, we will never know because Albemarle (like H&T) is on AIM so doesn't publish a remuneration report. How convenient.

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