Retail regulator needed

17 February, 2006

MP's have come up with a 14 point 'Save our High Street' plan designed to counter the growing power of British supermarkets.

The recommendations, that include the appointment of a Retail Regulator to oversee future development, have been made by the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group after a seven month inquiry. The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders welcomed the idea of a retail regulator saying it would keep a focus on the High Street and circumvent the 'toothless' Office of Fair Trading. But the British Retail Consortium immediately condemned the report, accusing the authors of trying to reverse shopping habits. In the report, 'High Street Britain: 2015,' the cross-party group of MPs highlighted a broad range of issues of concern to small shopkeepers and sets out 14 recommendations to promote fairer laws to help preserve and forster retail diversity.

Contributors to the report raised concerns over the intense pressure small shops face from market-led and external forces. The report states that witnesses cited the aggression of larger companies, distortion of the supply chain, a lack of business support and disproportionate regulatory burdens among the problematic issues. It claims that many shops across the UK will have ceased trading by 2015, with few independents taking their place. In order to redress the balance and help sustain a healthy and competitive market, the APPSSG decided a range of policies and measures were required. It said a moratorium on any further mergers and takeovers should be implemented until the government has brought forward proposals to secure diversity and vitality of the retail sector. A retail regulator must be established which would undertake a full investigation of the grocery sector and non-food retail; oversee the moratorium and bring forward proposals for the maintenance of a vibrant, diverse and sustainable retail sector; and provide support to local authorities developing retail strategies. The report stated that the lines between 'top-up' shopping and 'one-stop' shopping have become increasingly blurred with the presence of large retailers in both markets taking advantage of central buying.

Therefore, the two market ruling, set in 2000, is believed to be outdat-ed and should be revised. A revised code of practice between suppliers and retailers is recommended. The group said a review of the tax system was needed and the Jersey VAT loop hole should be closed. There should be a review application of the rate relief system which is applied to in-dependents trading on the threshold of viability.

A new requirement for all local authorities to adopt a retail strat-egy with the Unitary Development Plan should be introduced, according to the report. Regeneration units, tasked with strategically and positively managing town centre growth, should be developed. Retail focused regen-eration units should be developed in all Regional Development Agencies (RDAs and greater power should be delegated to people locally. The report states that the Hamp-ton Review should be implemented rapidly and highlights the importance of promoting training provision to the retail sector. Revisions to the retail property market should be made to examine use of upward-only rent-re-view clauses and length of commer-cial leases. The transformation and innovation of the Post Of?ce network and businesses should be accountable for the damage they cause to the environment. Robin Webster, supermarkets campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: "This report goes a long way to-wards ? nding a solutions to protect the many small shops which offer genuine choice, good value, a per-sonal service and a lifeline for local communities."

BRC director general, Kevin Hawkins, said: "The committee has entirely overlooked or not under-stood the critical importance of scale economies, not just in retailing, but in virtually every other sector of a mature economy such as that of the UK." Although the report focuses on damage to small shops, should cur-rent trends persist, it also highlights inequalities leading to adverse effects across primary, secondary and terri-tory sectors. "This is inevitable with producers, suppliers and other businesses seeing their customer base eroded," the re-port states.

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