James Lowman: ACS in action

All posts from: July 2012

Planning for Diverse Local Centres

Posted by: James Lowman Fri, 20 Jul 2012

Throughout the past two years you may have heard me talk quite a few times about the importance of planning policy. I am very aware that despite my best efforts it can seem impenetrable and complex. It is for this reason that I am delighted we have published our guide, Planning for Diverse Local Centres, which attempts to explain and simplify the new planning regime. It focuses on the things you need to know and what you can do. 

The first thing to understand is that councils DO have the tools to support local retailers, to build long-term plans based on promoting diversity, vitality and character in their large and small centres. However, we cannot assume that they will use the powers they have. That is where local retailers come in – you can have your say at every stage of the process. The earlier you get involved, the more influential you can be.

The key part of the process is the local plan, which will define what type of development can happen and where. You have the opportunity to shape these plans, and to work with other retailers, your customers and other parts of the community to set out a positive vision for your local area. Quite simply, if a site is identified for development in the plan, it will be very difficult to stop. If it’s not in the plan, it will be very hard to get planning permission.

We have fought long and hard to safeguard crucial national rules that give councils the power to decide where supermarkets can and should be built. Also we campaigned to ensure that national government and local councils see it as their responsibility to promote diversity in retail, and where necessary to resist harmful, unwanted or unnecessary multiples. Now we have to work together to make that happen on the ground.
Please take the time to download or read the guide which is available at www.acs.org.uk/planningguide, or call the office on 01252 515001 and we can post you one. It’s the first step towards taking back some control over the place where you live and trade.

Unfair business relationships

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 18 Jul 2012

In recent weeks, a number of Cabinet ministers have been telling the business community that what’s missing from the push to drive economic growth is a bit more elbow grease from British business. While the wording wasn’t quite that blunt, the message from the top is clear: everyone needs to get out there, creating value to pull this country out of recession.

As expected, the response from the business community is easy to summarise: if you get the conditions right and allow us to trade effectively, we will drive growth and, by the way, we’re already working pretty hard.

So what are the conditions we need to allow growth? There are three specifics that would get the ball rolling: fair business access to finance and consistent regulation.

If the government wants to see real investment, it can’t let big business employ bullying tactics over its smaller customers. Whether it’s the monopoly of the news supply chain or the underhanded tactics of energy suppliers, retailers are constantly undermined by an unfair business relationship.

At the moment, there’s probably no more important business relationship than the one a business has with its bank. The government’s efforts to get banks lending to small businesses have failed. Local shopkeepers don’t just have difficulties in getting finance, but also suffer from unilateral increases in borrowing costs and changes in terms including sky-high borrowing fees.

The third condition is about the consistency with which government regulates. The recent de-restriction of Sunday trading laws during this summer was an example of knee-jerk politics with no consideration of the full impact on all businesses. The rationale, we were told, was to ‘send a message that Britain is open for business during the Olympics’. What does that mean? Why is this measure the most effective way of delivering this message? Uncertainty is part of business life, but bad government shouldn’t have to be.


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