There has been a great deal of use, particularly by government, of the term ‘responsibility’ recently. Unfortunately this has been primarily in the context of telling retailers and wholesalers that they should take responsibility on an ad hoc basis for matters that should properly be the responsibility of national legislative policy, but which they see as too difficult and or unpopular to implement.
At the same time, an unfortunate myth has grown among the national press and some politicians that independent retailers are the sector where irresponsibility and bad practice are rife.
These assumptions are both lazy and wrong - there are examples of bad practice in every sector, but it is not disproportionate in the independent sector.
Indeed, the sector is going through a reinvention where successful c-stores revert back to genuinely being at the heart of the community. They become a key factor in maintaining high standards of behaviour in both adults and children. Parents, for example, can know and trust their local retailer to ensure the kids he has seen grow up are unable to buy alcohol while they are underage.
”I am sick of lazy assumptions about bad practice in the indie sector”
Recent examples clearly back up my argument. It is independent retailers saying that local authority test purchasing is less effective if there has to be 48 hours’ notice of a visit. In several areas, success rates in test purchase campaigns are demonstrably higher in independents than multiples. It is independent retailers asking government to legislate and communicate on “proxy” purchasing. Independent retailers are united in asking government not to exclude them from charging for carrier bags. Responsible retailers welcome the initiatives from tobacco companies to remove cigarette gantries from retailers convicted of counterfeit or smuggled supply. They welcome the withdrawal of alcohol licences from retailers involved in illicit alcohol or tobacco. Recently members called on the NFRN to expel any member convicted of selling illicit tobacco.
Wholesalers, too, are playing their part, particularly in the bold move to actively invite government to impose additional licensing registration requirements on them to tackle alcohol fraud.
There will always be exceptions to rules in any sector and there are rogue retailers as well as rogue staff members. However, successful independents recognise the need to hold themselves to an extremely high standard within their community. I am sick of lazy, unprofessional assumptions that our sector is somehow not as responsible as the multiples - indeed I assert the opposite is true.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons