Earlier this week, the All Party Small Shops Group, led by Jim Dowd MP, reported on its findings. Before it even appeared, many of you told me that it would be too little too late, although you did appreciate what Mr Dowd was doing.
One baker made the comment that it was a pity he wasn’t Small Firms Minister, because the successive names that have held that position have “done damn all”. Whereas, at the meetings I have attended, Mr Dowd has refused to be intimidated by the might of Tesco or anyone else and has been the first MP to ask the searching questions and demand factual answers about problems facing small shops, plus the power of the supermarkets.
David Smith of the National Association of Master Bakers (NA) has worn two hats during all the committtee meetings at the House of Commons – his baker’s cap and the one as spokesman for the Independent Retail Consortium. He has made a significant contribution.
We all know the supermarkets wield enormous power and use it most effectively. They have the funds and a most active lobbying arm – the British Retail Consortium. Until the advent of Jim Dowd’s committee, small shops, represented by literally dozens and dozens of different trade associations, had no-one who would even listen.
In the former Tory government, just after Mrs Thatcher had made small firms administrate their own Statutory Sick Pay, Michael Heseltine confirmed as much on TV, when he posed the question: “Do you really expect us to listen to small trade associations with only 3,000 or so members?”
I shall never forget that indictment. To me it sounded like, “To hell with principles, fairness or what is right, the ONLY thing that matters is MIGHT.”
So, yes, it is too little too late, but there are some sound ideas that look to the future. The report says local authorities should come up with key strategies for retailing – surely that must include a mix. Bakers need to be near to newsagents and convenience stores, not nail parlours and sunbed providers.
Additionally, it suggests funding for local authorities, which currently run out of money when supermarkets consistently appeal. Parades of shops need to become a destination again and government must help those local authorities – that is how it works so effectively in the rest of Europe.