Saturday, 26 July 2014


The news that twenty councils in England are considering calling for the so-called "Tesco tax" on supermarkets, which could raise up to £400m a year, has excited some interest. Naturally the Westminster Con-Dem Government has come out and said that additional taxes on supermarkets would push up food prices. Oddly enough the three largest of the Westminster based and focused political parties have a warm if not cozy relationship with the large supermarket chains. This also ignores the fact that a similar tax already operates in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Supporters of the tax believe the supermarkets can afford it, saying it's just a fraction of the costs that supermarkets had to swallow when VAT was raised in 2011. Supermarket retailers are likely to strongly resist the move arguing that they are taxed enough already. They already pay more in business rates, a property-based tax, than any other form of taxation and have been lobbying the Westminster government for a complete rethink on the system. I have no doubt that the larger retailers will also no doubt raise concerns about fresh investment and jobs being put at risk, etc.
Concerns about the economic impact of supermarkets on local economies are nothing new. Some years ago an excellent piece of work on this very subject was produced by 'The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England' (CPRE) - their report: ‘A Real Choice exposed the real damage (including job losses) done by superstores to local economies something that should be seriously considered in relation to any proposed retail development that would affect our small towns and communities.

The CPRE report should make a valuable indirect contribution to the on-going debate over the future of the Welsh economy. When it comes to the really big issues then a sustainable and prosperous local economy in our communities has to be one of the biggest. It is important to be able to think outside the envelope and make long-term rather than short-term cash focused decisions. The redevelopment, restoration and retention of a living and breathing economic heart in our communities is vital.

Slowly but surely there has been an increased recognition of late of the benefits of local food economies and the important role of local shops and retailers, despite the fact that both the Westminster Government and the Welsh government have increasingly caved into pressures to weaken the ordinary people’s involvement in the planning process. The CPRE report exposed some of the real costs that are paid by local retailers and small businesses and consumers as retail planning policy is increasingly driven to benefit large scale superstore developments, which continue to aggressively expand their market share at the expense of local retailers, suppliers and customers.

Surveys (even as far back as 2005) revealed that 70% of British Shoppers would like to buy local food and 49% would like to buy more than they do. Yet the expansion of the supermarket sector market share at the expense of independent shops and smaller retailers continues pretty much unchecked – despite the spin from the larger retailers what this means is that shoppers will increasingly continue to have less and less  little opportunities to buy fresh, seasonal, traditional and easily traceable distinctive local food.

This is not about nimbyism, because Supermarkets and high quality food stores definitely have their place in the urban and rural economy but their contribution could be significantly enhanced if they stocked more locally grown, produced and clearly labelled local foodstuffs as they do in Brittany, something that would bring benefits to both farmers and consumers alike. 
The continued popularity of local farmers markets across South Wales has shown that the public is more than happy to buy quality local produce and to support local retailers. Yet most supermarkets still have barely between 1% and 2% turnover from local food producers, something that badly serves local food producers and customers alike.

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