David Rees: Editor's comment

All posts from: November 2012

Plain thinking

Posted by: David Rees Wed, 21 Nov 2012

We’ve heard on the grapevine that the government will be making some sort of announcement on the plain packaging of tobacco before Christmas, following the public consultation earlier this year.

It might not be a definitive statement, but will no doubt refer to the introduction of plain packaging already under way in Australia. And while I would love the government to say that they are keeping an open mind about the idea, or better still have dismissed it, I fear that tobacco regulation is only going one way at the moment, wherever you are in the world, and that plain packaging is on its way.

The point that the government has either spectacularly missed, or has strategically avoided, is that display of product is not the main reason why people take up smoking, or anything else for that matter. Issues such as plain packaging and the display ban are problematic for retailers not because they are on a mission to promote tobacco to the public, but rather because shoppers, millions of them, still want to buy into the category, and this form of regulation makes it much more difficult to serve them properly or efficiently.

Retail would be easy indeed if all you needed to do to trigger huge consumer demand was to build a display of products of your choice. If that was the case, I might even have a go at it myself – every line would have a 300% POR and a 25-year shelf life, and shoppers would be queuing round the block to take them off my hands. But we all know the real world isn’t like that, and it’s about time that the real world had at least some connection with government policy.

Regulate to accumulate

Posted by: David Rees Mon, 12 Nov 2012

Is business regulation a necessary evil, or is it a contradiction in terms? I ask because, at a time when the country needs businesses firing on all cylinders to help drive economic growth, the regulators are doing nothing to help.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen a half-hearted effort to rein in the energy giants that will have only marginal impact, and a flat out refusal by the Competition Appeals Tribunal to overturn the OFT’s view that there is nothing to worry about in the news supply chain.

Energy regulator Ofgem has at least admitted that small businesses need more protection, but the OFT is apparently unconcerned about monopoly suppliers, imposed surcharges and falling trade margins.

The two cases are entirely different, but the general message is the same: as long as consumers are not being directly affected, then there is no need to act. In other words, the regulation industry, if I may call it that, exists to protect the public from small businesses, not to protect small businesses themselves.

But why should it be that a shopper entering your store has a state-appointed champion, but you don’t? Consumer protection is a good thing, but small business owners are consumers, too, so why should retailers have to jump through regulated hoops - pricing, labelling, food safety, fire, health & safety and so on - when serving the public, but face the Wild West when it comes to dealing with their own suppliers?

It’s time for action, not just on the specifics of protecting independent retailers, but in the whole culture of regulation itself. If the government is serious about letting local, entrepreneurial businesses drive the economic recovery, then it needs to appoint a champion with real power to properly take their side.

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