David Whitton, a Labour MSP, addressed local retailers at the Scottish NFRN conference in Edinburgh last week. Mr Whitton is a capable politician and has a good mastery of his brief. Despite his claimed affinity with news retailers, independent shopkeepers will find that his knowledge of their business affairs relies heavily on information from unfriendly sources – supermarkets and anti-tobacco lobbyists.
At the age of 17 Mr Whitton found himself delivering newspapers. He recalls that it was "quite lucrative" at the time, with a good mark up and heavy bags. His audience of news retailers smiled, remembering the day.
However, today Mr Whitton was promoting the Scottish Labour Party's plan to win power from May. He may talk about helping entrepreneurs but his heart is really in getting people employed. He wants local shops to employ more people and to train more people. In passing he noted that supermarkets have a "good track record of taking on staff in deprived areas."
In the question and answer session afterwards, recent ACS research into the employment credentials of the supermarkets was brought to his attention. As betterRetailing reported last month, more than 2.7 million extra square feet of selling space by Tesco and Sainsbury in the past year had resulted in 426 fewer jobs. Could the Scottish Labour Party not challenge the supermarkets more when they claimed to grow jobs?
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In reply, Mr Whitton, whose constituency covers Strathkelvin and Bearsden, was able to quote the exact numbers of people employed by Tesco and Asda in their various stores within and just outside his local area. He was also aware of their ability to recruit long term unemployed. He remembers his brief from the supermarkets, even if it is "anecdotal".
Similarly, in stating his support for the tobacco display ban, he said that the evidence was that tobacco companies would pay for the changes to retailers' shops to accommodate the ban. "I hope this will prove to be the case," he says.
The message for local shops is clear. They need to share data about the good work they do in providing jobs and then have their trade associations brief MPs and MSPs time and time again. The other side is lobbying as you read this column. Statistics are powerful. The ACS research needs to be put in the in-tray of your local representative next week – and repeatedly.