>>High street demise? Blame it on the powers that be


On first reading, the report published this week by the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group makes for pretty gloomy stuff, with dire predictions that high streets across the country will be turned into retail wastelands by 2015 as independents shut up shop for good.
I hope the MPs who drafted the report are proved wrong. As an optimist, I have always felt the independent sector, while contracting and consolidating like all industries, remains as vibrant as ever. Moaning on too much about how bad life is, and how nasty the big retailers are, runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I know many of you agree we should be wary of talking down the sector. My optimism about the future for the independent scene is supported by the results of our annual Top 50 survey, published last week, in which we detailed many retail success stories. Being an optimist does not, however, make me a fool. Our Top 50 survey also confirms, unfortunately, that life really is getting tougher - even for those at the top of the industry. That’s not moaning; it’s the reality of trading in one of the most competitive markets around.
So what’s to be done? Well, much of the coverage of the APPSSG report has focused on the group’s thoughts about the role played by the multiples in the demise of independents and the need to find ways of rebalancing power between the two sectors. Fair enough.
Yet the report reminds me there is one group that has arguably done more to hasten the demise of small stores than Tesco, Sainsbury or the like ever will. That’s right, I am talking about the MPs, local politicians, national and regional civil servants and so-called market regulators who make up this country’s political establishment.
Their impact on independents has been hugely damaging: from the petty-minded council bureaucrats who take away free parking from outside the doors of c-stores, to the planners who turn a blind eye as their towns are dominated by a single major retailer, to the MPs who vote through wonky laws that disproportionately impact small businesses, to the economic morons in the OFT who won’t act against clear abuses of market power.
We don’t need more legislation to prevent the independent sector disappearing by 2015. We just need these bloody people to start doing their jobs properly - from today.
Bureaucrats, do your jobs!