Our Sentiments Exactly

Good news! We are all feeling much better, thank you!

Or, to put it another way, we've rocketed all the way up to 24, that's 2 and 4, 24! Two dozen!

You don't know what I'm talking about, do you. Well, I refer you to the well-known Consumer Sentiment Index, as referred to in a report from Consumer Futures, economic analysts to the business world.

And they say, that, in the first quarter, we in the South-West have smasheroonied our way up the hippy-happy-pop charts to twenty-four points . That's all the way up from seventeen, where we were languishing, after a sentiment by-pass, last time they looked.

That's right. We were as miserable as a bunch of flattened badgers at the end of last year, and now we are as springy as chickens.

Just one little thing before you hang out the jubilee bunting in advance, and start cracking open the packets of grockles. The national average in the self-same Consumer Sentiment Index is actually twenty-eight. Yes, twenty-eight. That's, er, four points higher than this.

This is very bad news. Bleak. Awful. Miserable. We are more fed up than the rest of the country by four points. I don't know about you, but I feel down already. My sentiments are slipping down. They are around my ankles. I mean, why do they bother telling us this? I mean, that we're on twenty-four. When the rest of the nation is swinging along on twenty-eight.

It's enough to drop us back down to thirteen-and-a-half. Pretty soon we will be the most fed-up, run-down, face-achingly self-loathing bunch of people ever to be issued with back teeth.

Wiping away the tears, I look for signs that we may recover. Perhaps the South West Regional Development Agency, the only twelve-syllable outfit worth trusting, will have some comfort for us. Any joy?

Woe and thrice woe, and a woe for bad luck. They say that twenty per cent of our companies are losing business. Losing it. Have they been reading the Consumer Sentiment Index? Do they think that the Met Office is bringing its weather down here with it? Actually, that's a thought, isn't it. What does it say on The Weather every night? "Cloudy, some drizzle, outlook uncertain." And where do they process this information? Bracknell.

Where will they be processing it in future? Exeter.

So, in addition to our Consumer Sentiments taking a bashing - and remember, that's the Good News - we are shortly to be invaded by glum men and women in macs, with grey told-you-so faces, who will spend their whole time holding their hands out in the expectation of rain, and being arrested for begging.

What's our problem, then, according to the South West Regional Development Agency, which is a bit of a mouthful, so let's re-title it the South West Agency for Regional Future Expansion and Great Aims, then we can call it SWARFEGA for short. What does SWARFEGA think is the problem?

Apparently, 20% of companies lack language and cultural skills. Oh no. How do they know? According to their James Harris, there's been a survey. What have they done, rustled round a set of questionnaires asking "Do you lack language skills? Cultural skills? And by the way, have you seen where we are in the Consumer Sentiment Index?" What did SWARFEGA expect?

If we're all as glum as one-degree-under Met Officers, our companies can hardly be expected to fill out sheaves of paper with anything other than noughts and crosses.

Mr. Harris does, however, tell us what to do with our dodgy language skills. He says that his SWARFEGA survey, which he calls an audit, "enables us and our partners to identify and measure the skills gap to review what companies want and expect from education, training and service providers over the coming years."

I don't understand that. I don't understand the lingo. It's Grade A guff. But then this is probably because I lack the language and cultural skills to understand it. It reads as if it was written under a bit of a grey cloud (get used to it). And that, of course, is because I am terminally depressed by being so low in the Consumer Sentiment Index.

Has anyone thought to tell the Queen about this? About us being so dairy-cheesed-off? She is due here in the coming week, and will be expecting smiles and grins, and outbursts of sheer Exe-stacy. Instead, she'll be facing a thin crowd of misery-gutted saddoes, waving limp flags, and sucking on sad pasties.

Her Majesty is a trouper. She won't give anything away (unless there's an earldom going for Dartmoor. "This is baron land!" she will exclaim, and that'll be misunderstood, of course). But she may well be thinking, "This lot don't look like the lot I saw last week. I bet their Consumer Sentiment Index is on the skids."

So what do we do? We want to get up that Index, don't we? We want the folk in the - oh, say, Bracknell Echo - to be telling their readers that Bracknell is a forlorn and depressed community, and that the South-West has shot up to 75 in the Consumer Sentiment Index, is through the roof, has smashed all records in the feel-good stakes, is on uppers, as against on its uppers.

We in the South West like animals, don't we? Then let us celebrate with them. They won't need any specialist language or cultural skills. Let us take our pet pussycats and well-fed pooches to see The Queen. Let us hold them up as tokens of our great self-esteem, our cheer, our faith in the future. Let's toss them high into the air, along with our caps and bonnets.

And hope Her Majesty doesn't notice that it's raining cats and dogs.

Bill Greenwell

From Express and Echo