Can we ever escape the superstores?

AS all regular readers of this column will know, I am a firm believer in market forces and I blanche if state interference exceeds the minimum.

So, it may surprise you to read that I can empathise with those citizens of this country who are worried by the seemingly unfettered expansion of a small number of giant supermarkets. I use one of these outlets on a weekly basis to stock up on my provisions and I use the store regularly because I have no problems parking outside and because it is reasonably cheap. However, it does worry me that these superstores seem to be taking over every town in the country, controlling our high streets and now moving into nigh on every area of our shopping lives. Not content with making massive profits, they continue to expand and are no longer satisfied with selling only groceries.

It was disquieting to listen last week to the boss of a small family window-fitting firm, talking on the radio, about a local superstore now competing with his business. Will anything be superstore proof?

Perhaps these giant stores will soon be trading in antiques – buy one, get one free. Or are we going to see a cinema screen appearing at the rear of each of these stores? Or, perhaps, driving lessons will be offered? Et cetera, et cetera.

Yes, I’m all for the free market but the inexorable rise of these giant stores, crushing all local family-run businesses and damaging community interaction at the same time, is certainly worrying and the Competition Commission should act sooner rather than later (as they do on the continent) to ensure town centres are not irreparably damaged.

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Is convenience the be-all and end-all of trading? What about the staff who work in these stores? Do they have a choice about the very long hours they’re expected to work, for their modest wage? What about the suppliers to these stores? Should they be treated as serfs, to attend to their ‘Lords and Masters’ every wish?

Despite my natural political inclinations, I am against these giant stores being given carte blanche to buy up vast swathes of land, in an effort to take their profits way past the present enormous mark. Plurality, mulitiplicity of choice is what’s required in a well-functioning society. Indeed, our PM has stated he wants to make the needs of small business entrepreneurs one of his main priorities. Well, this is a good place to start.

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