I’m not just talking economics in these difficult times but another, far longer term, threat: the growth of anti-competitive, exploitative and unethical global business.
Small, family-owned traders are the centre of our communities and yet, daily, they have to compete against the big corporations and chains that drive out competition by short term price cutting and offering unsatisfying, unethical and over-priced options. Meanwhile our family-run shops are lost forever.
Whether it’s the big supermarkets, the bland coffee chains or the publicly financed high street banks, they’re killing off our independent retail sector. Napoleon long ago famously described us as a “nation of shop keepers”. It seems today we are less a nation of shopkeepers, more a nation of chain shops. Tescos now controls almost one third of the grocery market in this country. With over 2000 stores in the UK, its profits last year were over £3 billion.
I’d like to ask Sir Terence Leahy, the Chief Executive, how many Tesco stores does he imagine one city needs? We’ve got about a dozen here already. It seems that on just about every street corner in this city, Sainsbury and Tesco are battling for land.
And it matters deeply because what these supermarkets destroy is the social glue that holds our neighbourhoods together. Research shows that local shops bring huge benefit to local communities. More than vicars and priests, more even than local councillors or the police, nearly three quarters of people identify local traders as the “heart and soul” of community. And when you talk to shopkeepers, they’ll tell the same story – which customers come into their shops for conversation and local news as much as to buy things. On average, a local shopkeeper will know seven out of every ten of their customers.
Just like postmen and women – who, as we know, are also under threat – local shopkeepers play a key role in keeping an eye out for people, for spotting if older people or the more vulnerable are in difficulties.
As the recent outcry over the Lewes Road community garden shows, which is threatened to be bought by Tescos, we need to get the planning laws changed. People have a right to a stronger voice over what happens on their doorsteps – the council should be obliged to take into account the cumulative impact of number of similar shops throughout the city, not just in certain areas.
So what can you do? Join national campaigns to see stronger laws to block any new supermarket takeovers and of course, we can choose not to shop there. Our country is known for its wonderful independent local shops, and we need to keep it that way.