Election Season

On 22 May, we (by which I mean substantially less than half of the UK population) will vote on how we want to be represented in the European Parliament. ACS is a non-partisan organization, though I am on record here disputing the crude maths used by UKIP to oppose immigration – we know that many convenience stores are run by recent immigrants, and that they provide jobs and add value to the economy.

What I wanted to look at here were the powers that the EU has over retail businesses. In the recent TV debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, the proportion of regulation affecting UK business that emanates from the EU was a key argument.

The most recent big issue for convenience stores at EU level was the second iteration of the Tobacco Products Directive that will ban menthol cigarettes, slims and packs of 10, while also requiring 65% of the front of tobacco packs to be devoted to a health warning. More generally, much of the food law and employment law retailers have to deal with starts in Europe, and the competition regime that was the framework for the Competition Commission enquiry into the grocery market is set at EU level. The EU is also leading on regulation of credit and debit card payments through the Payment Services Directive, so retailers should soon be thanking Brussels for reducing their card transaction fees.

So, the EU is without doubt relevant to UK convenience stores, and ACS interacts with the EU through a Brussels-based organization called Independent Retail Europe. Co-incidentally, also on 22 May we are hosting the IRE general assembly in London, which will be a great chance to discuss this policy agenda and to talk about market developments across the EU.

However, the EU still accounts for a relatively small part of our regulatory agenda: the National Minimum Wage, alcohol legislation, business rates, the planning system, the tobacco display ban, plain packaging, carrier bag charging, energy market regulation, crime policy and sentencing are home grown policy challenges. Even when Directives are agreed in Brussels, it’s often the UK implementation of them that causes us greatest concern – for example the producer responsibility regulations that require retailers to account for the recovery and recycling of the product packaging they sell.

In fact, I would argue that the most important event for retailers on 22 May will be the local elections taking place in many parts of the country. It’s local councilors who will decide on what gets built in your local area, which stores get alcohol licences and with what conditions, what parking policies are used, and how business rate relief is applied. In terms of your day to day trading, these are crucial issues that you can really influence by building a relationship with your councilors.

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While I’m blogging, I’d like to thank P&H for recognising ACS by choosing me to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Retail award at their ProRetail dinner this week. It’s a great honour and one that hopefully reflects on the team, board and everyone who supports ACS.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Fri, 16/05/2014 - 14:18