Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Simplistic arguments about supermarkets

The BBC is trying hard to publicise a Panorama special about supermarkets. This is one of those issues on which politicians love throwing around half-baked opinions without regard to the statistical evidence. There is a mass of complicated, conflicting evidence about the impact of supermarkets on smaller retailers. I have always thought that when you go to a decaying high street in one of the grottier parts of London, what are the three things that you cannot find? One is a free cashpoint. A second is a shop that will sell you a newspaper. And a third is a supermarket. So poorer people, living in those areas, have to pay to withdraw cash from machines in little shops that charge them more for basic goods - without having a supermarket to shop at more cheaply. Could this be why the Competition Commission has previously called for the planning regulations to be relaxed to enable more (yes, more) supermarkets to open?

I used to work in Pimlico and the Standard was up in arms when Tesco propoosed to open a convenience store there - I wasn't. I was delighted that there might finally be somewhere in which I could use my debit card without being charged, buy a sandwich at lunchtime, get a newspaper - and all without being ripped off. A Tesco would in no way have been a threat to the delicatessens and restaurants in the area, but would have provided some much needed competition to some of the area's existing convenience stores. Of course, supermarkets are open to criticism, but this is a subject on which a lot of nonsense is talked.

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