Steve speaks to the Association of Convenience Stores’ annual conference

 In Croydon, Speeches

Steve Reed MP has outlined how a Labour government would offer more help to local shops.  Here is the text of the speech he gave to the Association of Convenience Stores’ annual conference in Central London.

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your conference this afternoon.  I’m delighted to support the fantastic network of local convenience stores that offer such an important service to our communities.  But I know our local shops offer more than just a service – they’re the heart of many of our local communities.  It’s impossible to imagine our communities without them.  The job you do is amazing and it’s a privilege to be here today to thank you for it.

In my constituency of Croydon North alone, there are over 100 convenience stores employing over 750 people, which is above average for London.  That adds up to a significant contribution to the local economy for which we’re all really grateful.  And it’s not just jobs, it’s local jobs, flexible jobs, and jobs that people love doing because it puts them at the heart of their own community.

Times have been tough for anyone in business over the past few years.  The global recession meant people have less money to spend, and that’s hit local businesses hard.  I talk to shop keepers in my constituency and they tell me the recovery is coming very slowly.  Many of them are still waiting for things to improve.  We can’t afford to let important community businesses like these suffer, so I want to see much more done to support our local shops.

I’ve only been an MP for two years after being elected in a by-election in 2012 so I’m still London’s newest MP.  Before that, I was leader of Lambeth Council in South London.  I learnt a lot in that job about local businesses and the challenges facing business owners.  Some of what we did there, in partnership with businesses, has taught me what more we could do on a national scale.  I’d like to share some of that experience with you this afternoon.

One of the big challenges facing local shops is crime and anti-social behaviour.  Hard-pressed businesses can’t afford to lose stock to shop-lifters, but they don’t want to lock down with so much security that customers are put off coming through the front door.

One of the ways we worked together to tackle that was integrating all the CCTV in the area.  We linked up the businesses’ own CCTV with the council and police CCTV on the high street in Streatham and made one great big system that was much better able to track shop-lifters.  The evidence that gave us made it easier to prosecute offenders and make it easier to identify and ban persistent offenders from local shops.

Partnership working like this makes it much easier to act against thieves and bring them to justice.

But it’s not just theft that’s a problem.  There are also problems in some areas with drug dealing and other forms of anti-social behaviour that can bring an area down and put customers off shopping in local stores.  Only a few weeks ago I met with shop keepers in the West Croydon part of my constituency, and they told me in no uncertain terms how they need more help to tackle crime.

I’m worried that the Government has this week replaced ASBOs with IPNAs – or Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance.  The main difference is the new IPNAs, which came into effect yesterday, don’t have any criminal sanction of the offender breaches them.  So if someone’s been dealing drugs outside a shop and they get served with an IPNA banning them from the area, no offence is committed if they breach it and return there.

That wasn’t the case with ASBOs.  And although ASBOs weren’t perfect, 50% of people who got them didn’t break the terms, which is quite a good success rate according to the police I’ve spoken to.  We shouldn’t be weakening our armoury in the fight against crime, we should be strengthening it.

On the subject of police, it’s very disappointing that the Government still plans to reduce the number of police officers on the streets.  I hear from so many small businesses that a visible uniformed presence on the streets makes a real difference in cutting crime and making people feel safer.

That’s why Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, is right to say we would scrap the expensive and ineffective Police and Crime Commissioners and use the savings to keep those 1000 police in their jobs patrolling the streets.  We must keep up the fight against crime at a time when too many businesses are still suffering the effects of it.

Of course there’s a lot me we can do to support out local shops apart from taking crime seriously.  The energy price freeze that Ed Miliband announced last year would save businesses money in heating their shops.  On average, businesses would save £5000 on their energy bills over the period of the freeze, and that would make a real difference to many businesses.

We’ve also promised to save you money by cutting business rates for small businesses, easing the tax burden on businesses that are often struggling to survive.   It seems wrong to me that business rates have gone up nearly £2000 on average since David Cameron became Prime Minister, while big businesses have benefited from cuts in corporation tax.

That’s not fair, and we need to offer a better deal to our small businesses.

I know, too, that many businesses are finding it hard to raise funds from banks when they want to grow.  In part that’s because the banks are too remote to understand the dynamics of particular local economies.  That’s why Labour’s committed to opening a network of regional banks to lend to local businesses, modelled on the successful Sparkassen in Germany.

One of the issues that is raised with me time and again by convenience store owners is parking restrictions.  Councils put in parking schemes that don’t take account of the needs of local businesses, and it can be devastating.  I’ve seen shops close down because parking restrictions means their passing trade simply vanishes overnight.  No business can survive that.

Councils should consider the impact on businesses before resident-only parking is introduced, and businesses should be able to call for short-term parking bays so they don’t lose their customers.

We all want to see regeneration in our town centres, but I know many convenience stores are – by definition – located away from the main shopping areas and in the residential neighbourhoods they serve.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from regeneration too.

We have a great example of this in Croydon.  We’re really excited about the prospect of a new Westfield-Hammerson shopping centre opening in the town centre.  But we don’t want that to be the death-knell for the local shops that have served our community so well for so long.

So our Labour council is investing in improvements to the pavements, shop fronts, street lighting and street signs to make the areas outside the town centre more attractive to shoppers too.  That needs to happen wherever regeneration is planned.  Investment has to work for the whole community, not just the central retail districts.

If I ask shopkeepers in my area what their biggest concern is they’ll often tell me it’s the threat of one of the big chain supermarkets opening up nearby.  The supermarkets can use their purchasing power to drive small shops out of business, offering short-term deals that tempt customers away until they’ve destroyed their local competitors.  That’s not healthy for the local economy or good for local shoppers.

I’d like to see more community involvement in taking decisions about whether these stores can open in a particular community.  I’d also like to see the community given powers to place restrictions on them so they can’t undercut local convenience stores unfairly.

Our corner shops are part of what makes our communities function.  They are a central part of British life up and down the country.  There are huge challenges facing the trade as we recover slowly from the recession.

We need a Labour Government on your side to help you meet those challenges so Britain’s convenience stores will still be there, and thriving, ready to serve the next generation just as well as they’ve served us in the past.