Home Secretary Charles Clarke was given a taste of the problems faced by small retailers when local traders showed him round a struggling Norwich shopping parade.

The cabinet member, who is also one of the city’s MPs, listened to shopkeepers’ concerns while being shown round the Earlham West Centre by local independent c-store owner Nigel Dowdney. The traders witnessed the loss of a post office on the parade in July, saw the local pub boarded up three weeks ago, and could suffer further losses from the introduction of a nearby Tesco Express. Clarke reassured the retailers that they would not be forgotten.

He told C-Store: “Small parades like this are vital to local communities and we’re absolutely committed to doing what we can to help sustain them. I was very angry about the post office shutting down and believe that the situation was badly handled right across the board. “The answer is to get traders back in here. The new cycle shop which has just opened is a good example of this, and I also think the pub is the key to the area. Losing both the post office and the pub in quick succession was a big knockback.”

Clarke said he was in favour of linking small out-of-town shopping parades to high-quality city centre security schemes. He added: “It has always struck me that two or three cameras on parades such as this would make a big difference. If you invest in a control centre then adding a few cameras doesn’t make too much difference to the cost.” In the week that licensing minister James Purnell warned licensees they risk going out of business if caught selling alcohol to underage children, Clarke also told C-Store he believed ID cards could prove a lifesaver for retailers.

He said: “Shopkeepers can have real difficulty in monitoring people’s ages when they attempt to buy alcohol. The introduction of ID cards is just one way I hope we can address this problem.” Nigel Dowdney added: “The children need to be targeted at school and we need more police patrolling the streets. Selling to underage children increases anti-social behaviour and holds no advantage for us.”

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