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Having owned a newsagent for five years in Grimsby, Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorpes and new chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Retail Crime, will be able to use his own experience to highlight the blight faced by retailers.
Here he speaks to Retail Newsagent about what he is hoping to bring to the role.
Q: Former chairman Guto Bebb put you forward for the role. How will you continue the work he has done?
He raised the profile of the issue and that’s what I want to do. We look to the police and security organisations to actually combat the issue, so my role is to ensure they are proactive in dealing with it, they have all the powers they need and that they are well-equipped to take on the challenges. I also need to ensure that local police forces are responding. If they are not the APPG can take the issue forward with police commissioners and chief constables and, if need be, with ministers. The All-Party Group wants to know if a retailer is not getting a response. Let us know which police force it is, so we are able to name and shame them if necessary.
Q: How will your own experience of running a newsagent help?
I only owned a shop for five years in the 1980s, but it’s a bit of experience I hope to bring to the role. It was extremely challenging, and I have a great deal of respect for retailers who carry on the business and make a go of it. It’s hard work, but it can be rewarding. I experienced a bit of shoplifting here and there and I had to replace smashed windows two or three times. I only had one serious burglary when I lost a substantial amount of stock.
Q: Do you think MPs are generally aware of the extent of crime retailers face?
Yes, I think on the whole they are because we all hold constituency surgeries, and we all get out in our own constituencies regularly. Then you also get the very sad cases such as the murder of the newsagent in Glasgow recently that gives business crime a national profile and makes MPs, like everyone else, stop and think.
Q: How will you raise awareness?
Through the political system, by asking questions and ensuring ministers are aware of the issues. I’m also very happy to take delegates from the trade to meet ministers if that’s helpful. If they’ve got a specific issue and they say they need additional support it’s not just the crime aspect, I’d also be supportive of the trade as a whole. We want to see thriving high streets and we don’t want to be crowded out by the big multiples all the time.
Q: Have you seen evidence of the police responding quicker to supermarkets than independent stores?
I’ve not seen evidence of bias towards multiples from my own constituency experience. We have to be realistic and recognise police resources are stretched. The police are under pressure and they have to face the issue of reduced resources and fresh challenges. It’s a matter of how they prioritise the work and different forces approach these this differently. In my own area the police take a very proactive role in trying to combat retail crime, but I know they can’t follow up every incident, that’s the sad fact. Where a gang descends on a shop, for example, and are not only intimidating but also potentially violent, they will certainly respond to that. But if you call them and say someone has walked out with a Mars bar and not paid you are not going to get a police response, to be honest.
Q: What is your message to retailers?
I would urge shopkeepers to go and see their local MP if they have concerns about policing or any issues –they all have surgeries. Lobby the people who are there as your representatives, who will then do their own lobbying of the police constable or police minister, whatever is necessary. Police commissioners also have a role to play. They are the elected representatives of the people. They don’t represent the police, they represent the community, and retailers need to be aware of that and go and see their local police commissioner – make a fuss. It is also important to report everything so the police can build up a profile and see there’s a specific issue in an area. People like me can then also go to the police and say “you have had regular reports from this area, what have you been doing about it? Have you stepped up patrols?”.
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