The Prime Minister last week invited 19 large companies, including the big four supermarkets, to a summit in Downing Street to discuss the current jobs market and how it can be improved. In the 'Big Business' meeting, Morrisons claimed that it would create 6,000 new jobs in 2011, Tesco promised 9,000 and Sainsbury's 6,500. Asda pledged to create 15,000 retail apprenticeships.
However, the validity of the claims was questioned by the Association of Convenience Stores. "These headline claims give cause to be cynical," said public affairs director Shane Brennan. "Are these jobs in new-build stores, or through acquisition of existing businesses? Are they full-time, permanent positions?"
He asked if the pledges meant that multiples were planning to continue their assault on the independent retail sector. "All these jobs are related to plans for aggressive expansion, and this means growing at the expense of other retailers and a risk to jobs in other parts of the high street," he said. "Supermarkets are not suggesting their staffing numbers will increase in existing stores."
Brennan called on the government and local authorities to properly examine claims made by multiples, especially when it came to planning applications and their effects on existing traders. "The government and councils must retain a long-term perspective," he added. "The unrestrained expansion of supermarkets will lead to a return to the bad old days of an exodus from our town centres and reduced diversity."
One Tesco development in Accrington, Lancashire, promised to create 450 jobs in the area, with half earmarked for local residents. However, when it opened its doors last November, it advertised just 191 posts. Hyndburn Borough Council leader Peter Britcliffe said that Tesco "owed the council and the residents an explanation" for the shortfall.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said although job creation claims were considered by councils, they are "just one of many aspects that are taken into account".
The ACS was this week asking MPs to support the inclusion of a commitment to 'promote sustainable high streets' into the Localism Bill, which had its second reading this week.
"Asda has promised 400 jobs in an application for a store close to the town. A store of this size doesn't do me any good, but no doubt it is going to go through anyway. From my point of view it could be the final nail in the coffin as it will take customers away from the town centre."
Alan Daley Paramount Stores, Hayes, Middlesex
"A large new Tesco is opening soon in the town and it looks like it will take a huge amount of business away from town centre stores. There are worries that some of the independent traders will be forced out of business as a result of the opening. A similar situation occurred in one of the neighbouring towns and it devastated the town centre."
Lesley Brown Frankmarsh Stores, Barnstaple, Devon