Comment

Scenario for small shops not that bad

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It looks like interested parties have taken the traditionally quiet news period of the festive season to vigorously lobby the media over the fate of small shops over the next decade. An all-party group of MP's is due to report on the sector soon having taken evidence from a wide range of sources. It seems however that the battle lines have already been drawn up, the views of the small shops groups and the supermarkets are already being well aired, and the recommendations that will come out in the report are pretty much in the public domain. Reports in national newspapers over the new year quoted largely un-named sources as saying that the future of the small shops sector was 'very, very bleak indeed', that 'food deserts' would be created with devastating difficulties for the elderly and infirm, and that independent food wholesalers would be forced out of business.

Another glaring and pointed fact to come out, rightly or wrongly, was that Tesco hopes to double its number of small stores to 1,200 within the next 10 years. To paint such an overwhelmingly grim scenario has an element of crying wolf about it and to his credit the all-party committee chairman, MP Jim Dowd, was quoted as saying that reports that small shops would be a thing of the past by 2015 were exaggerated. The published report is likely to recommend a range of practical measures such as cheaper town centre parking, stricter planning and fair trade controls on supermarkets to favour small shops, and a range of other restrictions on supermarkets. These recommendations have been well aired too.

So the real interest when the report is published will actually be in the Government's response. To expect a revolutionary range of measures from the Government will be to expect too much - it cannot be seen to be interfering too radically in what is a free market. Rather than putting the emphasis on restricting supermarkets, however, help to secure the separate healthy development of independent supply chains should be undertaken. This would help secure the future of not just small shops but small abattoirs and farming communities too.

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