UK inquiry into cloning of the retail landscape: Australia should follow their lead and support independent retailers

“My colleagues and I have become aware of the increasing concerns of our constituents, independent retailers and academics alike regarding the loss of diversity and amenity within the retail sector. Constituents have raised their fears about the breakdown of town and country life of which the retail industry is an integral part. This inquiry will look at the broad spectrum of criteria for a thriving high street and the role this plays in the community.” Jim Dowd, Chair of the All Party Small Shops Group.

The UK Parliament’s All Party Small Shops Group is to investigate trends in the UK retail market in an effort to address consumer concerns about greater centralisation – the big getting bigger. The inquiry will invite evidence from retailers, consumers, and government and enforcement bodies.

We need a similar inquiry in Australia.

The announcement of the inquiry has met with strong support if this comment piece by Terry Murden in The Scotsman is anything to go off. In his piece is a comment which fits with my blog comment when writing about McDonalds, potatoes and Tasmania:

“It is a delicate issue for those who might support the broad outline of the campaign while knowing they contribute to the problem themselves by doing their weekly shop at the hypermarket. It is also a problem for those who believe we should champion the growth of British companies. Tesco is one of the best we have got and in chief executive Sir Terry Leahy we have a genuine world-class retailer.”

I agree. On the one hand we want our businesses, regardless of size, to be successful. One the other hand we need commercial opportunities at all levels including small and micro business. Yet with the big getting bigger there are fewer of the small and micro businesses, less choice, and a tighter job market as the big pursue profits at all costs.

The UK inquiry is a good step in understanding what the consumers in the UK want and what the impact of possible change will be on High Street. The challenge will be for independent retailers to make appropriate and considered submissions to the inquiry.

At the heart of the inquiry is the question of whether consumers want to ensure the clone approach to retail which big business seems attracted to. Indeed, at The Independent, the headline for their story in the inquiry says it all: MPs open inquiry into ‘Clone Britain’. “Colonisation of high street by national brands prompts examination of future for local shopping.”

The inquiry has wide support: 50 MPs, consumer groups and a bunch of industry groups such as the National Federation of Retail Newsagents – they have issued a press release supporting the inquiry.

Back here in Australia we ought to lobby our Federal Minister for Small Business, Fran Bailey, to support a similar inquiry. Even though the government does not have a good track record for responding to the findings of such an inquiry, it has been many years since an inquiry was held into related matters.

Lobbying of the government to stop further cloning of the Australian retail landscape is something small business owners, consumer groups and industry associations ought to be pursuing with vigor.

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