Last week I attended the NFRN’s annual reception at the House of Commons. Several of the retailers attending that I spoke to had a similar message: “the market place is changing, we have to embrace the change and run faster to make our business work.”
Apart from having the opportunity to meet with retailers, the key purpose of the event is to meet MPs. With the help of Charley Parsons – a member of the NFRN’s public affairs team who provided a suitable letter – I invited my MP Duncan Hames to meet me at the reception.
This he duly did and we talked through many of the issues that are covered in the 2015 Public Affairs Manifesto. His wife is currently the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. She was leading a debate on the day of the reception about tied pub tenants. Our industry does have monopoly supply challenges with newspapers and magazines, but it is not seen as causing the same problems as these publicans have.
The topic that I am particularly concerned about is retail crime. Like so many retailers, I have been a victim and feel that we need to remind our representatives just what it is like to lose confidence in your own safety. There is also a particular part in the crime landscape that MPs have created themselves, which is illegal cigarettes and tobacco.
Mr Hames told me that he cannot envisage any circumstances where the tobacco duty escalator is stopped, but the consequences of it do need to be recognised and acted against. On the policing of illegal tobacco, he recommended that retailers make contact with their police commissioners to make the case for investment in bringing the criminals to justice. He also added to do the same with local council representatives to ensure that Trading Standards budgets are adequate to do its job effectively.
As I have found before when I have met Mr Hames, he listened to me positively and with concern. He took away a copy of the manifesto. I will follow the meeting up with an email both to thank him for meeting me and reiterating the key points that we discussed.
A good day rounded off with my first visit to the House of Commons public gallery to watch the debate on tied pub tenancies at his suggestion.