I’ve got three Spar stores in Manchester city centre which all traded 24 hours a day until last Tuesday night when we followed police advice and closed at 8pm.
One of the most difficult decisions I had to take was asking my staff and managers to stay on duty behind the locked doors. Two of the stores didn’t have shutters you don’t need them when you’re open 24 hours a day. I knew that if we left the premises unmanned we would have had a total loss. The police weren’t in a position to defend the store, so we had to do it ourselves.
The worst affected store was at City Tower. Sixty looters broke in while the manager was cashing up and we lost £25,000 of stock, mostly cigarettes and alcohol. They were all quite young and they were laughing. They thought it was hilarious. When you watch the CCTV back it’s horrific they look like locusts.
At the other two stores, my heroic staff stayed inside as a deterrent. Doors were kicked in at both of them but we didn’t lose any stock. I’ve got a lot of very frightened staff now.
When the credit crunch hit I did expect a slight increase in criminality, but this was on a different scale. This was just young people tormenting the police and demonstrating that they can do what they want.
I got home at 4.30am that night a nervous wreck and proceeded to drink a bottle of wine in 45 minutes. I posted on Facebook that it had been the worst night of my business life. I asked myself why I’d got into this business and how the situation had become one where I was asking staff to work in such a dangerous environment. I didn’t feel like going back to work on Wednesday, but I couldn’t not turn up. When you’re the boss you have to motivate people, you can’t just sit there with your head in your hands.
The big problem with these riots was that they came out of nowhere. When I woke up on Wednesday, the most depressing thought was knowing we might all have to go through the same thing again that night.
The danger of all this will be if young people sustain a taste for this kind of lawlessness. The implications for society and retail businesses are quite scary.
The police should be given more extensive powers to detain and deal with rioters in these types of situation. They do a great job, but in my opinion there are too many 9-5 officers with desk jobs, and not enough officers on the ground at the times of day when you need them. That was a problem before the riots, when response times in Manchester city centre on quiet nights of the week like Sunday or Monday could be quite slow, primarily because there were not enough officers on duty.
There are rumours on the street that the rioting is going to happen again. It could just be young people trying to wind us up, but we certainly need a lot more police in the city centre for a couple of weeks.
I welcome the move from the government to extend the deadline for insurance claims under the Riot Damages Act to 42 days. The flexibility from HMRC on payment schedules and record keeping is also helpful, and so was the announcement that Barclays would offer business customers an emergency extended overdraft. Those sorts of practical measures are really useful. We want to be able to carry on as normal.
Here’s hoping for a peaceful few days of trading.