This time next week you have the opportunity to employ a new partner in your business. The general election looks like being one of the very closest in history, with the prospect of no clear winner leading to parliamentary chaos.

No matter the result, however, every retailer will have a new local MP who can champion your community, tackle issues nationally and in your immediate area and put your concerns to whoever forms the next government.

One industry expert who passionately believes in the power of politics to make a difference is the Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby.

Below, he explains why it’s so important to get out and have your say on 7 May.

Retail Newsagent: How valuable can it be for a retailer to engage with their member of parliament?

james bielby
James Bielby, chief executive, Federation of Wholesale Distributors

James Bielby: A close relationship with your MP helps them to understand the effect of legislation on your business, and the contribution you make to the community you serve. They are then able to influence debates in Westminster when policy is formed. Knowing your MP will benefit you if you have issues that you need help with on a local level.

What issues can a retailer bring up with their member of parliament and what are the best ways to do this

Don’t be afraid to bring up any national or local issue that affects your business. As an employer and a provider of crucial services, you are very important to the constituency. The best way to engage an MP is to invite them into your store – make it an event that involves customers and demonstrates your value to the community.

What examples can you give of stores benefiting from working with their MPs?

FWD has taken more than 100 MPs into independent convenience stores, and the retailers who have got the most out of these visits are the ones who have followed up with a letter asking for help with local or national issues.

How much power do MPs have to help retailers?

On the national stage, MPs can speak up for small shops in parliamentary debates, and vote in their favour. They can raise questions with ministers, influence committees, and even introduce their own Bills in the house. Locally, they give good advice on how to deal with local authorities and can put a good word in for you, but their direct power is limited.

What are going to be the big issues for retailers in the next parliament?

Rising employment costs, more regulations on food, tobacco and alcohol, business rates review and possibly another attempt to change Sunday trading rules.

What would you say to a retailer who says “they’re all the same”?

It’s not true. There are clear differences between the major parties on a whole range of issues, and difference in commitment between candidates standing for the parties. Good MPs work very hard for small businesses in their constituencies, irrespective of which party they represent.

Finally – dare you predict the result?

How the parties line up in the new parliament is anyone’s guess at the moment. There is unlikely to be an overall majority for any party.