Over the past year Convenience Store has been running four campaigns to help independent retailers protect themselves from the threats of big business and relentless regulation. Each of the issues we identified has, over the year, become headline news as crucial decisions were made that had significant effects on your business.
And in each case, the engagement of ordinary retailers, their willingness to launch initiatives, write letters, sign petitions and lobby their MPs in an effort to protect their interests, was a factor in the decisions that were made.
Our Cancellation Day campaign in May alerted thousands of retailers to the need to cancel and renew their gas and electricity contracts each year, to avoid punitive ‘rollover’ tariffs.
But many are still trapped in sour relationships with their suppliers. While Ofgem’s intervention in October has gone some way to protecting the very smallest firms, there is still much to be done to cut the power barons down to size and with energy costs set to be the biggest drain on your bottom line in the coming years, this is a battle we all need to keep on fighting. The next challenge is to ensure that the regulator’s measures to protect domestic account holders are extended to include small businesses.
Health minister Gillian Merron stonewalled any attempts to introduce legislation to make adults accountable in law for the cigarettes they buy for children, claiming such a law would be ‘too difficult”. But the Scottish parliament felt differently, and will outlaw the practice in the new year.
With the current government preparing to make parents take more responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of their children, we’re confident that the current is flowing in the right direction.
Okay, we lost the battle on displays. But there are other fights still to come before the display ban, due in 2013 for smaller shops, is finally forced upon us.
Despite intense lobbying from trade bodies, petitions of signatures from thousands of retailers and some high-profile support in both houses of parliament, the government’s insistence that children take up smoking because they see cigarettes in shops a view formed without the foundation of convincing evidence won the day.
The next challenge, assuming a change of government next summer, is to convince a Conservative administration to overturn the display ban. Potential future ministers have made encouraging noises, stating the lack of evidence of effectiveness as a reason to reject the legislation. While they have fallen short of any promises, the door is open.
Meanwhile, we will continue to highlight the problem of the illegal trade which is threatening legitimate retailers’ livelihoods, in the hope that tobacco never becomes an ‘under the counter’ product.
There’s definite progress on this one, with local councils around the country working with retailers to address the problem as part of a policy to counter anti-social behaviour. Retail groups have made a crackdown on proxy sales central to their community responsibilities, and media stories of refusals have raised the issue to national prominence.
Across the country, Community Action Partnerships have had remarkable success. Through education and enforcement the message is starting to trickle through: you can’t pin this one on retailers.