Alan says a new report by a respected think tank ignores the community value of local shops

Over the past six or seven years 'community' has become a buzzword in the independent sector for the unique interface between the local store and its shopper audience. The unique link remains it is impossible for any giant retailer to replicate the human values the consumer can find in a nearby owner-managed business.

However, take a look at the new Connected Communities report by champions of the arts the RSA, which looks at London's New Cross and its community structures and people. It gives the local Sainsbury's a lot of focus, but search for a mention of small shops and you get nil.

Sainsbury's was named as a 'transformative' bridge where locals from different backgrounds could interact on a regular basis. Of course, local shoppers will interact socially in the store, but where is the lady operating the till, leisurely chatting away to one, two or three locals about Mrs Grundy's hip operation? Where is the manager? If it's so rosy in this store, why do long-faced consumers queuing at the till regard their visit as a chore?

It gets worse. The RSA analysis puts up refuse collectors, postmen and pelican crossing attendants as people who could play pivotal roles in social community interplay. No one will object to any efforts to help rebuild the fragile fabric of our local communities, but the RSA appears to be unaware of small shops as natural hubs of local interaction.

The report is cunningly designed as a contribution to the Coalition's policy of The Big Society. Our lobbyists might take note. From deep inside the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills I have it that any campaign, entreaty or appeal asking government to favour the petitioner must be submitted in the context and terms of The Big Society otherwise it will be binned.