FEW industries could be more competitive than retailing. The drive to better their rivals is what pushes the major store groups to continuously improve what they offer to customers. So what does a gaggle of Members of Parliament suggest applying to this thriving industry? A regulator, of course.
Imagine how the staff of the Retail Regulator might delight in “protecting” consumers by dictating permissible prices, and suitable sales mixes. The customer would no longer be king, instead it would be the bureaucrats who held sway over what appeared in the stores.
The MPs would have their new creation charged with bringing forward “proposals for the maintenance of a vibrant, diverse and sustainable retail sector”. That is a tall order of a bureaucrat, as likely to result in a dictat that every high street should have the approved quota of coffee shops, chemists and clothes stores and end up looking remarkably similar.
The All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group has identified a problem but it is reaching for the wrong weapon to deal with it. In its own evidence it cites the heavy regulation that already governs retailers, with the burden being disproportionately heavy on smaller stores. There is a genuine concern about the speed at which smaller stores are vanishing: in the last decade the UK has lost nearly 30,000 independent food, beverage and tobacco retailers. Yet dubious regulation has hastened this trend.
The insistence of the competition authorities that there were two distinct types of grocery shop, the superstores and the convenience stores, and that the first could be allowed to gobble up the second, has dramatically changed the retail landscape in Britain. There now seems a willingness to rethink that view but it is too late to undo the damage. One lobby group, the new economics foundation, is calling for the major grocers to be forced to divest their stores to limit their market share to a maximum of 8 per cent. Even if that were possible, consumers would be incensed.
Competition authorities and Retail Regulators? Wow!
The serfs are loosing even more freedom in other areas:
SMOKING will be banned in all pubs, clubs and workplaces from next year after historic votes in the Commons last night.
After last-minute appeals from health campaigners, MPs opted for a blanket prohibition which will start in summer 2007, ending months of argument over whether smoking should be barred in pubs and restaurants only. They voted to ban smoking in all pubs and clubs by 384 to 184, a surprisingly large majority of 200.
Smoking will still be allowed in the home and in places considered to be homes, such as prisons, care homes and hotels. But there are difficult decisions to be made on exemptions for places such as oil rigs, where smoking outside the workplace would be dangerous.
Smokers lighting up in banned areas will face a fixed penalty notice of £50 and spot fines of £200 will be introduced for failing to display no-smoking signs, with the possible penalty if the issue goes to court increasing to £1,000.
Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, also announced that the fine for failing to stop people smoking in banned areas would be increased to £2,500 — more than ten times the £200 originally proposed.
The Bill also allows the Government to increase the age for buying cigarettes. Ministers will consult on raising it from 16 to 18.
Smoking could still be banned at outdoor locations that are “substantially enclosed”, such as football grounds and railway platforms. The details will be contained in regulations after a three-month consultation.
No decision has yet been made on whether smoking will be banned in cars carrying passengers.