Businesses dismayed by poll results

  • Heavy discounts: A shopper loads up with toys during the Black Friday sales. Just days later a poll commissioned by The Royal Gazette suggested that voters believe businesses aren't part of the shared sacrifice needed to reinvigorate the Island's flagging economy.

    Heavy discounts: A shopper loads up with toys during the Black Friday sales. Just days later a poll commissioned by The Royal Gazette suggested that voters believe businesses aren't part of the shared sacrifice needed to reinvigorate the Island's flagging economy.

Real estate response was not a surprise

A poll showing 56 percent of locals opposed to the idea of Bermudians selling property to non-Bermudians comes as no surprise to realtor Buddy Rego.

“If you take the question on face value as simply saying should any non Bermudian be able to buy any property from Bermudians, then yes, the answer should be no,” said Mr Rego, who heads the Chamber of Commerce’s real estate division.

Mr Rego said the “obvious answer” to the question — which is why so many people dislike the idea of property sales to non-locals — was that “the question neglected to qualify what category of home was being sold”.

In the Mindmaps questionnaire of 404 registered voters, respondents were 36 percent in favour, 56 percent against, and eight percent undecided.

A racial disparity was also evident: 45 percent of white respondents were in favour, versus 31 percent of black voters — while 44 percent of white voters were against, compared with 62 percent of black voters.

They’d been asked if hypothetical Bermudians “Mr and Mrs Outerbridge” ought to be allowed to sell their home to a non-Bermudian couple.

“If Mr and Mrs Outerbridge had a cute little two-bedroom cottage in Warwick that they wanted to sell to non-Bermudians, then the answer should be no,” Mr Rego said.

It would be different for a luxury home, he said.

“Where Government has shot itself in the foot before is by disallowing all Bermudians from selling, in particular those at the high end of the market.”

The Rego Sotheby’s CEO said: “The reality is that if a non Bermudian wished to come to Bermuda as of December 2, 2013, I would be able to show them a total, as of today, of 27 houses. That’s all that’s available. And the asking price is $4,375,000. If you’re non Bermudian, that’s where the price starts.”

He added: “The notion that we’re somehow in a housing shortage is not true — as evidenced by Grand Atlantic.”

Mr Rego said it was important “not to discourage inward investment” at the top end of the housing market.

“We have a limited land mass here, albeit with a decreasing population, so we do need to preserve affordable housing for Bermudians,” he said.

“But I am not fearful for this generation, or for generations to come. Unless something magical happens, we’re not going to be overrun with people.”

Local businesses say they are also hurting during the economic recession — despite popular opinion that they aren’t shouldering enough of the load.

The Bermuda Chamber of Commerce yesterday declared itself “dismayed” by a poll commissioned by The Royal Gazette showing that three quarters of the Island’s voters believe businesses aren’t doing all they can.

Not true, responded Chamber president Ronnie Viera, who said a strong anti-business sentiment in the community persisted despite “valiant efforts” by the group’s members.

He called the assertion “frankly beyond belief”.

“Knowing that there are numerous businesses which have closed down in the last few years, and knowing first-hand the sacrifices many of our members have had to make in order to keep their doors open and staff employed during this protracted recession, it is particularly difficult for us to read the results of the recent Mindmaps survey which clearly suggest that residents do not think businesses are doing enough to bear their share of the economic burden,” Mr Viera said.

“It is also disconcerting that the question would be so heavily weighted as to suggest a prescribed response.”

Mr Viera said 5,000 local jobs had perished since 2009, and more than 3,000 expatriate workers had left with their families.

“Today there are no more than 35,400 in the workforce,” he said. “The significant loss of foreign capital and the overall reduction in the sheer volume of consumer purchasing has negatively impacted every facet of our economy; from schools to hair salons, restaurants to taxi drivers and every coffee shop and retailer in between.

“Right now the majority of our members are thinking about the long-term, operating at a loss in order to keep their doors open, staff employed and ‘Bermuda Inc’ open for business. They are either having to reinvest their private income into their business or are taking nothing from the business in order to keep the lights on. It is also worth noting that for every item on display duty has already been paid — so owners are carrying that additional cost before a single sale is made.”

Mr Viera said it was “somewhat ironic” the Mindmaps results should be published just days after Black Friday.

Many of the Chamber’s top retailers had opened doors early and “deeply discounted” merchandise — “at a heavy cost”, he said.

“We already know that certain grocers have committed to reducing their slim profit margins further to offer ten percent discounts on Wednesdays.

“This will no doubt have a knock on effect on our wholesalers. Many restaurants are already offering daily specials and in January close to 50 will be participating in further ‘Love Month’ discounts. Meanwhile, our retailers continue to offer unprecedented pre-holiday savings, with major department stores like Gibbons standing behind their ‘Price Match Guarantee’.

Belco also defended its stance on Bermuda’s economic challenges.

A spokeswoman pointed out the company funded this year’s “Neighbours Helping Neighbours” campaign to raise monies for emergency financial assistance through the Family Centre, Age Concern and the Coalition for the Protection of Children.

Belco is continuing to fund the campaign. Belco is also holding its basic tariff rates steady into 2014.

“We also work continually to manage fuel costs, which determine the Fuel Adjustment Rate paid by consumers. At the same time, we operate the Central Plant efficiently to control fuel consumption,” she said.

The company promotes energy efficiency among consumers, she said, calling it “the simplest, most direct way that consumers can reduce energy spending”.

She added: “We are endeavouring to manage Belco, which is a capital-intensive operation that requires continuous maintenance and upgrade, against the backdrop of shrinking revenue, largely as the result of Bermuda’s population decline and business closures. Management of our operation also includes ensuring that our 250 staff members remain employed, as well as providing benefits to approximately 180 pensioners.”

Lindo’s supermarket head Giorgio Zanol said residents need to appreciate that the 10 percent discount offered on Wednesdays by his chain, along with MarketPlace and the Supermart, was the best deal stores could offer.

“At 10 percent off, we don’t make any money,” Mr Zanol said. “There’s no profit for us in that.

“I tell people that if they think we make a lot of money off them, then I’d like them to follow me for a week around my store. The Belco bill that we pay, the money we pay out on repairs, the amount of time we spend, getting up at midnight or 2am because something breaks down — they just don’t know about that.”

Added Mr Zanol: “This is a tough job, believe me. People say we’re making 10 percent, 20 percent — actually, we sell sugar and flour at cost or below at times.”

Local supermarkets “do a lot for charity”, he said.

“If we don’t make some kind of profit then we have nothing to give away.”

Mr Zanol was aware of suspicions in the community that supermarkets were finding ways to recoup profits lost in gestures like the 10 percent discount.

“We do not change our markup. I would ask people to come in and see if we change the prices. We don’t. We want to make a decent living but we are not here to take money from the people.”

Mr Zanol also dismissed the notion that Bermuda’s supermarkets conspire to take in profits from a captive market.

“It’s a very competitive market,” he said. “We cannot afford not to be honest, and we are not in cahoots with other supermarkets.”

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Published Dec 3, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 2, 2013 at 10:32 pm)

Businesses dismayed by poll results

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