British Retail — [Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 6th March 2013.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 3:41 pm, 6th March 2013

Like so much that we have heard from those on the Government Benches, it was not quite as good as it originally sounded. None the less, it is an idea to consider. More seriously, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes also revealed statistics that graphically exposed the challenges facing our retail sector.

Caroline Dinenage reflected, at amazing speed, on her own background in retail and the importance of the retail sector in her constituency and more broadly.

We are all conscious of the pressure on the retail sector at this time. We have seen some very high-profile failures on the high street in the past few months. The lesson from those failures is that businesses that do not modernise—that do not harness the power of the internet and take the opportunities that are available out there—simply will not continue to succeed.

We all want to see a diverse offering on the high street. We need to consider how the power of Government can be used to support small businesses to strengthen their internet presence. With regard to the reduction in business support that is out there, anything that we can do to support small businesses to harness that power would be tremendously important. With that principle in mind, my hon. Friend Mr Umunna has launched Small Business Saturday, copying an idea that is already successful in America. Many Labour local authorities are involved, and I hope that local authorities of all political persuasions will sign up to have a Small Business Saturday identified every year on which local authorities and the local small business sector can work together to encourage people to shop locally. Local authorities are coming up with very innovative ideas to promote their local small businesses.

In Chesterfield, where I am the Member of Parliament, we have a tremendous retail offer. We have a huge market. We have a market festival, which has brought a lot of publicity. It supports not only our retail offer, but our tourism offer. However, an issue that we have had in Chesterfield and that I touched on earlier is the massive emergence of the big supermarkets and particularly Tesco in the convenience store sector. We already have a huge Tesco Extra store. We have a Tesco petrol station and convenience store on Newbold road. We have a supermarket in the town centre. We have a Tesco that has moved into the former Angel pub on Derby road. There is a Tesco moving into the White Horse at Old Whittington, and there are now plans for a Tesco at the site of the Crispin Inn on Ashgate road. That will be six in one town. People in Chesterfield have been calling it Tesco Town and are very concerned that the offer available is far too limited.

I recently met with Tesco. When I asked whether it felt that six stores was going to be enough, I was told, “No, not nearly. We think there’s going to be loads more growth in Chesterfield and we see a lot more opportunities right across the country for many more of these Tesco stores in the convenience sector.”

I am not anti-Tesco, but I do think that something radical is happening that has the power to change dramatically our communities and the diversity of food on offer. I do not think that we have really stopped to think about whether we want that to happen. It is important that we have a debate about what we want the convenience sector to look like. Are we happy for all food shopping to be in the hands of three or four major retailers, or do we want to say something about that? Are there things that we can do through the planning system to ensure that local authorities have the opportunity to say, “No, this is not what we want in our area”? This is not just about Tesco. Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda are also moving into the convenience store sector. Those stores provide very good value and are popular among consumers, and we do not want to stop people having the right to shop where they want, but it is a debate that we need to have and an area that we need to think about.

This debate is incredibly important. The Portas review was a tremendously useful piece of work. What Mary Portas identified in her work was that planning and regulation, if they are done correctly, can boost and support the diversity of the retail offer, rather than necessarily always being a barrier. We need to get the right balance between planning controls that give local authorities and communities the opportunity to say what they want, and giving businesses the freedom to operate in the way they want. There is a fine balance. It is not always true that less regulation is good and more regulation is bad, but good regulation is important and ill-thought-out regulation is problematic. I congratulate the hon. Member for Watford on securing the debate and I congratulate everyone who has spoken on contributing so well to it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s contribution.