James Lowman: ACS in action

All posts from: June 2014

What communities want

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 30 Jun 2014

We have released the results of an ambitious new project to find out what retailers, councillors and the general public think about the services on their high street. The report, called the Community Barometer, uncovered what people want in their local area and what they think government priorities should be in the future.

When asked which services they would want more or less of in their area, retailers saw banks and Post Offices as the two services that they wanted to see an increase in. Overall, all groups (retailers / consumers / councillors) believed Post Offices had the most positive impact on their local area. Convenience stores were also a popular choice, especially with councillors – with 50% thinking convenience stores had the most positive impact.

It is clear from the report that people are missing dedicated services like post offices, banks and specialist food offers. This is one of the reasons a growing number of retailers are taking on things like cash machines, Post Office Locals and food to go counters in store.

An interesting find from the report was the unanimous agreement amongst all groups about the importance of intervention on business rates. Consumers rated business rates a priority, showing that campaigns from trade associations and the media are striking a chord with the general public. In addition, it is clear that the debate about out of town planning remains unresolved. 25% of consumers and 43% of councillors believe that putting town centres first when considering planning applications should be a priority.

Lastly, we asked the three groups to rate their council’s performance in various areas. While overall satisfaction with councillors was high, retailers saw planning policy and crime prevention as the areas which needed most improvement. Furthermore, while stores had strong relationships with schools and charities, 3 in 10 retailers claimed to have no relationship with their local councillors.

The overall message of the report is simple - people want diversity on their high streets. Specialist shops like butchers, independent stores and financial services are still desirable, and it’s up to government and local councils to provide the conditions that allow these businesses to thrive.

Brand new levies

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 2 Jun 2014

Over the last week, the Scottish Government has approved plans to introduce a mandatory 5p charge for carrier bags. The regulations, set to be introduced on October 20 this year, follow measures put in place by Wales and Northern Ireland to also charge for carrier bags.

Plans to introduce carrier bag charging in England have been pencilled in for 2015, but with some notable differences from the policies put in place in other UK nations. In England, there is complex guidance on the types of bags that will be included in the charge, meaning biodegradable bags and paper bags will be exempt. Additionally, current plans state that all small businesses are set to be exempt from the charge. In a report published at the start of February this year looking at the proposed regulations, the Environmental Audit Committee went as far as to say that the plans are a ‘complete mess’.

We believe that the introduction of a carrier bag charge in England will be a positive step. The introduction of a charge has been a real success in Wales, where bag usage has reduced by almost 80% with no reported negative impact on convenience retailers. In fact, retailers are telling us that charging for bags has had a positive effect on their business, demonstrating that they are conscious of their environmental impact whilst allowing them to use the funds generated from the charge to support charities and ingrain themselves further in their local communities.

A lot of ACS’ political activity is generally focused on trying to stop potentially damaging legislation from passing, and when regulation does get through ensuring that convenience retailers are given exemptions or different rules to follow to mitigate the impact on their business. In this case, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence. We appreciate that government’s intentions are good and that they want to encourage small businesses to grow, but believe that in this case they have left us out of something that could have a positive impact for both the retailers and the communities that they operate in.  We are calling for government to include all businesses in this charge and to simplify the legislation – they don’t even have far to look for a model that works, the answers are just across the Severn Bridge.

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