Probably the biggest headline from recent election results came in Scotland, where an SNP majority government will bring some challenges for retailers. Their deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has promoted policies such as the tobacco display ban and restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Unfettered by coalition partners, we can expect these and more health-related policies to be pursued with vigour, and we will be working closely with our colleagues at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation to face these challenges.
But there may be some good from an SNP government. You may remember a few months ago the SNP proposing an out-of-town retail levy. Sadly, this evolved into a straightforward tax with no redistribution to help smaller retailers (before it was eventually shelved), but this was a positive sign we may see some innovative thinking about supporting smaller retailers north of the border.
And in England and Wales we’re also seeing policy-makers thinking creatively about how local communities can support small shops. When we commissioned the think tank Respublica to look at how politicians and local people could promote a more diverse retail offer, we weren’t sure what the reaction would be, but it’s great to see Ed Miliband and other high-profile figures talking about retail diversity and referencing the Respublica Right to Retail report.
This is a crucial time in this debate. The Localism Bill is going through Parliament, the government its framing its guidance to local planning officers on what new retail development should be encouraged, and the review of the rating system is under way. If we can influence all this, we can look forward to a diverse and vibrant retail sector. If not, the government will be ushering in an era of supermarket dominance that will make the current position look like paradise.