Chief Executive’s Blog: For Local Shop Policy Solutions, Go West

This week we took a trip over the Severn Bridge to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff for a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Small Shops.  As with All Party Groups in Westminster, these groups can provide a useful focal point for discussing issues relating to particularly industries or issues, and before I forget, here is more information on the inquiry being led by the Small Shops Group in Westminster into Britain’s Everyday Entrepreneurs, which we helped launch in June.

Back to Cardiff, where group chair, Janet Finch-Saunders and Economy Minister, Edwina Hart looked at the issues being considered by the Assembly, and there was a common theme.  On business rates, planning and carrier bags – all hugely important issues for all types of small shops – the Welsh Assembly Government has shown some leadership and has generally found a better approach than that taken by their counterparts in Westminster.

While the 2010-2015 UK coalition government rightly introduced powers for councils to give discretionary rate relief, in Wales this was backed by £3.5m to fund local councils using these powers.  While in England, a good town centre first planning policy has often been misinterpreted and badly applied, leading to out of town sites receiving planning permission but never built, or some stores being built but never opened, in Wales the spirit and purpose of putting the town centre first has, from all the evidence I can see, been much better in practice.  And on carrier bags, while the UK government has chosen to exempt small stores from charging (even though we wanted to be included) in Wales an effective system with little regulation has been in place for years, raising millions for good causes and slashing carrier bag usage.

Yet whilst Wales has on balance been a better place to run a convenience store over the past few years (which is perhaps reflected in the fact that there are more stores relative to population than in any other part of the UK) there are some worrying items on the current policy agenda.  A tobacco retailers register will bring cost and complexity, proposals to tinker with the carrier bag charging system could make it more prescriptive and bureaucratic, and I fear disproportionate new measures on alcohol as part of public health plans.

It would be far too simplistic to suggest that there is one perfect policy environment for local shops, but I also hope that policy-makers take a close look at what has been achieved in Wales in recent years.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Thu, 02/07/2015 - 12:15