Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why it's time to break the chains

There are many charges to be made against the US/UK turbo-globalist neo-liberal model. It leads to greater inequality- creates social breakdown, by encouraging selfishness and materialism-and it also makes our lives immeasurably more boring. Just compare the vibrant high streets of the towns and cities of mainland continental Europe with the main streets in any British and American city- and you’ll know what I mean. In the continent, where the Rhineland mixed economy model still holds sway (despite the enormous external pressure from big business and the think tanks that they bankroll for it to be discarded), there is still high street diversity, with plenty of individually/locally owned shops, bars and cafes. But in Britain and the US, global chains dominate, destroying small business and making every high street look the same.
It’s clear to anyone who values diversity, that something must be done to stop the growth of big business, yet incredibly the Competition Commission suggested yesterday that Britain needs even more Tescos and other supermarkets. Supermarkets destroy local business and rip out the traditional hearts of our towns and cities. We need to be banning the opening of any more supermarkets in Britain, not calling for more of them. And anyone who has any doubts on the impact supermarkets have on the life of our towns and cities, should read the words of Charles Leakey, owner of Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, in today's Independent.
"The centre of town has been eviscerated from a commercial point of view.The heart has been torn out and most of our customers relocated to the big superstores. Before the supermarkets arrived it was a thriving, socially cohesive and a great place to be."
Social cohesion? 'A great place to be?' If you're looking for either, head to mainland Europe- and not Tescopoly Britain, where everything has a price, but nothing has a value.

UPDATE: If, like me you feel strongly about this issue, then please give your support to the Evening Standard's 'Save our Small Shops' campaign.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't mourn the loss of crummy, poorly-run, expensive local stores. I prefer my local Tescos which has a bigger organic section than any of my local wholefoods stores and features goods in a range of prices at a range of levels of quality. I don't remember being able to buy pak choi before Tescos for example.

If anything, Tescos has forced local stores to diversify and specialise and improve themselves. I go to my local bakery and veg shop because they are BETTER than Tescos, not simply because they are local, small or privately owned.

Neil Clark said...

Trouble is Luke is that it's not just the 'crummy, poorly-run expensive stores' that we're losing due to the increasing domination of supermarkets, but good, well run, inexpensive ones too.
It's not just the number of supermarkets that's the problem, it's the fact that they are now selling virtually everything- from books to clothes- putting independent book shops, clothes shops out of business too, as well as greengrocers, fruiterers, butchers, bakers etc.

We not only need to control the number of supermarkets, but also restrict what they are allowed to sell.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can see, it is mostly the bad small shops that are losing out. Sure, other smaller shops are being forced to innovate to stay competitive, but that is to the consumer's benefit. In my local area there are fantastic bakers, grocers and fishmongers precisely because competition from supermarkets has FORCED them to provide a unique, specialised service and we, the consumers, have benefitted from that.

Tescos is good at a lot of things, and bad at many others. It is only in the position it is in because many, many consumers have chosen to shop there; have decided, based on their own interests, that they would rather go to Tescos. And I don't think it is the role of government to nullify that choice through business controls. That doesn't strike me as particularly democratic.

Anonymous said...

Freedom for the pike is death to the minnow.

David Lindsay said...

The supermarkets should be made to fund investment in agriculture and small business (investment to be determined in close consultation with the National Farmers’ Union and the Federation of Small Businesses) by means of a windfall tax, to be followed if necessary by a permanently higher flat rate of corporation tax.

In either case, strict regulation must ensure that the costs of this are not passed on to suppliers, workers, consumers, communities or the environment.

Real agriculture is the mainstay of strong communities, environmental responsibility and animal welfare (leading to safe, healthy and inexpensive food), as against American-style ‘factory farming’. It is closely connected to the defence of the remaining field sports, and it calls for a free vote in government time on repeal of the ban on hunting with dogs.

Overarching all of this is the need to defend rural services, and in particular for the systematic reversal of bus route and (where possible) rail line closures going back to the 1950s, as well as of the erosion of local schools, medical facilities, Post Offices, and so on. A national network of public transport, free at the point of use, is required.

As is a new and powerful second chamber elected on the basis of the English ceremonial counties, Scottish lieutenancy areas, Welsh preserved counties, and Northern Irish counties, with each of those 99 units having equal representation.

There is now a party advocating all of this. Be part of it, as Neil and I both are. See my blog.

Anonymous said...

I whooped with joy when we finally got a Tesco up the road a few months ago, and for much the same reasons as Luke: our local Co-op was dire, and badly needed the competition. And soundings from my neighbours suggest mine is not exactly a minority view.

The simple fact is that compared with even ten years ago (never mind twenty, let alone your beloved 1970s), we have an infinitely wider range of options, many of them available online. I remember spending weeks trawling through record shop after record shop in the 1980s/early 1990s trying to find stuff that I can now track down in seconds, and my life is all the better for it.

But then I've moved with the times. Many haven't - but that's their loss. Quite literally.

And before you come back with the obvious riposte, I spent the 1990s running a failing business in a terminally dwindling market, so I know exactly what it's like. But I had the good sense to read the writing on the wall and change direction on my own initiative, instead of expecting the mighty hand of the state to bail me out by dictating what competitors can or can't do (a truly loathsome concept).