'Save our towns from Tesco takeover'

BUSINESS chiefs last night renewed calls for stronger safeguards to protect rural market towns against the dominance of supermarkets - as Tesco announced a profit of £2.8billion.

Craig Robinson

BUSINESS chiefs last night renewed calls for stronger safeguards to protect rural market towns against the dominance of supermarkets - as Tesco announced a profit of £2.8billion.

The retail giant increased its turnover by 11.8% last year, the equivalent of making £5,422 every minute or £90 per second.

It has led to fresh warnings that independent traders in Suffolk and Essex need more protection if they are to survive in the face of ever tougher competition from large multi-nationals.

There are fears that supermarkets on the outskirts of towns are forcing smaller stores to close because of a lack of footfall in the high street.

Lady Caroline Cranbrook, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) eastern region food champion, was the first person to submit a report to the Competition Commission for its recent study on the dominance of supermarkets.

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“There's no doubt about it - supermarkets have driven up standards, provide people with much greater choice and are an extremely convenient way to shop. But this has come at a cost,” she said. “Indirectly they have put a lot of smaller shops in market towns and villages out of business - they have a serious impact on the high street.

“The large stores have just become too powerful - they are disproportionate and the people who supply them can't deal with them on level terms.

“It's very difficult to stop them in their present form. They are going into small towns and rural areas and building large supermarkets which small businesses can't compete against.

“If they come in and put in smallish stores then the local shops have a chance but when they are large units on the outside of the town it is very difficult because there just isn't the footfall in the town centres.”

Lady Caroline, who lives in Great Glemham near Saxmundham, said shoppers would continue to visit supermarkets because they were the easiest option.

“You can't blame people for using them because it's extremely convenient,” she said. “We have to change our ways but unfortunately the infrastructure just isn't in place.

“When the Competition Commission released its guidelines to supermarkets earlier this year I think they missed an opportunity - they focused on competition and choice between supermarkets rather than between supermarkets and smaller retailers. There's still more that needs to be done.”

In November the East Anglian Daily Times launched its Shop Local campaign calling on the community to back small, regional growers, producers and retailers in the face of increasing competition from supermarkets.

David Burch, who lives in Long Melford and is east of England policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Nowadays supermarkets just don't want to sell food they want to do everything else as well - electrical goods, clothing, insurance, you name it.

“They want to continue to expand into other markets and it's a major threat to small businesses. Many of the supermarkets have free parking and it's a lot easier for people to go there and get everything they need than it is for them to visit a town centre.

“I think local councils need to remove some of the barriers that prevent people from shopping in towns - cheaper car parking and getting rid of double yellow lines would encourage people onto the high street.”

A spokesman for Tesco, which also owns the One-Stop convenience stores, said: “We find our stores tend to attract people thereby bringing economic benefits to that area. The retail sector is very competitive but there are plenty of examples where independent shops can exist successfully side by side with larger retailers.

“It's our commitment to good service, convenience, quality and availability in addition to our prices that mean people choose us time and again - but we know that customers will vote with their feet and go elsewhere if we are unable to continue to offer these things.”

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