The concessions on tobacco display are welcome but the battle will resume under the new government, says ACS' James Lowman.
When Parliament voted for the ban on tobacco displays at the end of last year we were left frustrated by a sense that it was political posturing rather than a clear grasp of the evidence that had ultimately influenced the majority of MPs that voted for it.
Nonetheless Ministers, empowered by a Parliamentary mandate to bring in a ban, have been developing the rules that will apply to all retailers in complying with the ban.
As well as working with the opposition and maintaining our stance against the ban, these political realities have meant ACS spending much of our time recently engaging in a robust negotiation with Government over the detail of the regulations they proposed.
It is therefore satisfying that we saw the concessions made this week. If, as is currently planned, the display ban comes into force on the 1st October 2011 for large stores and 2013 for convenience stores, it will be less costly and less disruptive than it would have been without our intervention. Under the revised rules a typical convenience store gantry will now only need to be fitted with 4 doors, rather than the 20 required in the original proposal. This will make brands quicker to find, so serving and restocking tobacco in stores will be easier than it would otherwise have been.
Even though we believe that the concessions made improve a bad situation it does not mean that the display ban will not still be costly, disruptive and pointless. As we approach the election and face a possible change of Government our overarching aim is to convince the Government that wins that they should review and ultimately reverse this ban completely.
We will not know for sure until the dust has settled after polling day what the chances of achieving a reversal are. We have to assume that a victorious Labour administration would not entertain a review of the policy, but an incoming Conservative or coalition administration might. In debate so far, both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat leaderships have opposed the measure. We will be working hard to remind them of this if and when the time comes. However it would be foolhardy for us to plan on the basis that a reversal of the ban is a given if the Conservatives win the election.
The smartest businesses are those that effectively manage risk, and the negotiations over the display ban regulations are an example of ACS doing this on behalf of this industry. Smart businesses will follow suit and start thinking about how their business will handle the change, and of course work with us in our efforts to prevent it.