A hard-hitting report on the power of the supermarkets will be published this week and thousands of small independent shops are hoping that the government will go head-to-head with the giants of the high street. What are the chances?
The 80 page report by the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group is widely expected to call for a full-blown investigation into the supermarket sector and its offshoot the supermarket-owned neighbourhood convenience store.
It will paint a grim picture of the independent sector, which is declining at a record rate. It will almost certainly call for the imposition of a supermarket regulator to curb the powers of the big four chains that control 75% of the £80bn market in grocery shopping.
Supermarkets are already gearing up to dismiss the report claiming that its authors (and other critics) do not understand that their businesses are just responding to consumer demand. They also point out that the death of small shops has been overplayed and that medium sized chains have taken their place.
BUSINESS FORUM COMMENT
It is certainly the case that supermarkets have never been more popular with consumers and the vast majority do not give too much thought to the effect that their dominance is having on the high street.
However, it is also the case that the playing field has a very steep pitch and the independents are definitely playing at the wrong end. There are many facets of the system that are stacked against independents.
Supermarkets ride roughshod over planning systems because they have the money to take almost any decision to appeal while cash strapped local authorities have limited resources; massive buying power and influence over suppliers that some suggest is tantamount to blackmail: the system that determines rents and rates (where the most valuable floorspace is the first 6 metres back from the shop window) weighs heavily in favour of the massive floorplate supermarkets where the back of the store has negligible value; free parking; lack of appropriate business support for independents; technological advances etc etc.
Anything that the government does to level the playing field is a step in the right direction but fighting the corner for independents may not be enough of a vote winner to spur the government into serious action.
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