Memorandum by the Association of Convenience
Stores (EVE 17)
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)
welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to this enquiry of
the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee. The convenience store is at the
centre of the evening economy throughout the urban, suburban and
rural areas of this country. This submission puts forward the
perspective of small retailers that trade in the areas with which
this enquiry is concerned and of those that are often overlooked.
ACS welcomes the enquiry as an opportunity to join up a number
of Government initiatives on issues as wide-ranging as crime,
licensing law reform, planning and Business Improvement Districts.
ACS wishes to see long term sustainable solutions
from this enquiry that are designed not just to push problems
away from the centre into the secondary areas but that will benefit
the city as a whole.
ACS believes that retailers could do more to
help prevent crime-related problems if they were granted first
year tax relief on security equipment for small retailers.
Many crime and disorder problems are related
to attempted under age purchases. High profile Parliamentary and
Government support for the "No Proof No Sale" message
on age restricted sales would help to develop a culture where
young people expect to show proof of age when seeking to buy age-restricted
ACS welcomes the reform of licensing law, and
wishes to see strong national guidelines to local authorities
on fees and administration of this system.
ACS welcomes the principle of Business Improvement
Districts (BIDs), but is concerned at the implications for small
retailers in secondary areas, who may find themselves paying for
city centre improvements that will not benefit them.
ACS is the trade body representing the interests
of over 30,000 retail outlets operating in city centres as well
as rural and suburban areas. Members include familiar names such
as Spar, Budgens and the Co-op as well as independent stores operating
under their own fascia. Our members operate small grocers, off-licence
or petrol forecourt shops with between 500 and 3,000 square feet
of selling space.
Convenience stores are the place where 10 million
local people shop, meet and talk every day. They are essential
to the neighbourhoods they serve, whether this is a market town,
major conurbation, suburban estate or village. From first thing
in the morning to late at night, convenience stores allow people
to shop without getting in their car, to buy food and newspapers,
to use the Post Office, and to play the National Lottery. Convenience
stores also offer local, flexible employment to members of the
community, especially those who need to fit working hours around
family and other commitments.
Focusing on the City Centre
Many ACS members operate stores in urban centres
providing a vital retail service to the evening workforce and
social community. The problems of antisocial behaviour impact
greatly upon them in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour.
However, ACS also represents the concerns of our members who do
not trade in the city centre but rather provide an invaluable
retail service locally to mainly residential secondary areas.
Any measures considered by the sub-committee
should be aware of the problem of simply displacing anti social
behaviour and crime out of the city centre and into the secondary
areas. Members in these areas already report problems in terms
of low police presence and consequently slower response times.
ACS urges that the Committee avoid cosmetic
solutions to the problems of the evening economy in the urban
city centre, but instead considers recommendations that are sustainable
and are designed for the benefit of all those working and living
in the entire urban area.
Crime and Vandalism
Convenience stores suffer greatly from a variety
of retail crime. ACS' own figures derived from a representative
sample of nearly 4,000 convenience stores show that three-quarters
of convenience stores can expect to be the victim of a robbery,
burglary or other violent attack each year. The British Retail
Consortium has reported over 20,000 incidents of physical attack
on retail workers in 2001. Shop workers work in constant fear
of such attacks taking place, USDAW reports that as many as three
quarters of retail employees are very or fairly worried about
In addition to this, convenience stores suffer
daily incidents of shop theft, for which they cannot claim insurance
pay-outs. Over half of retail crime is related to alcohol or drugs.
ACS and its members are pro-active in tackling
the problem of crime and in promoting better crime prevention
to improve the retailer's position. ACS holds Retail Crime Forums
where best practice developments are shared and discussed among
members. This information is relayed to members through ACS' newsletter,
web-site and trade press. ACS has encouraged members to become
involved in community-wide crime reduction initiatives by producing
"Sound Advice" a crime prevention video and by authoring
a crime prevention module in ACS Lifelong Learning programme,
an NVQ based training scheme. Furthermore, ACS recently joined
other retail trade associations and the Home Office to produce
guidance on crime prevention and has sat on the Retail Crime Reduction
Action Team (RCRAT).
ACS welcomes the development of Crime Reduction
Partnerships to develop crime reduction strategies appropriate
to the needs of local communities. Unfortunately, many independent
retailers find it difficult to get involved in these partnerships
due to the severe time pressures on them. As a result, many partnerships
focus on town and city centres rather than on secondary areas,
and members report that this has led to a growth in the crime
and disorder problems faced outside of major centres. ACS is working
with Regional Crime Prevention Directors to seek a greater focus
on secondary areas, and ACS actively encourages its members to
take part in Crime Reduction Partnerships.
Another way of helping small stores to fight
crime would be the introduction of 100% first year tax relief
on security investment for small retailers. ACS has consistently
campaigned for the Government to introduce security tax relief
because we believe it is a way of giving all retailers the opportunity
to help themselves by encouraging investment in security measures.
Every respondent to an ACS survey on this incentive said that
they would make changes to their security regime if such a scheme
were available to them. Members indicated that they would take
a more pro-active approach to crime prevention, updating and replacing
existing equipment if tax relief was available.
No Proof No Sale
ACS' experience shows that verbal and physical
attacks on retail staff are linked to the problem of attempted
underage purchases of alcohol and cigarettes.
ACS is at the forefront of initiatives in the
retail industry to change the culture of alcohol and tobacco purchasing
in the UK, and is on the Board of the Pass scheme, which will
be launched in January 2003. Through schemes such as Citizencard
(of which ACS is represented on the Board,) or Prove It! (the
Portman Group,) Validate or Connexions retailers are working hard
to promote the No Proof No Sale message.
The reality remains however that retailers are
subjected to deception and intimidation on a day-to-day basis
by the underage trying to purchase products illegally. ACS would
also like to emphasise the number of verbal and physical attacks
that result from a proof of age request made to an individual
that is old enough to purchase the product but either does not
have the necessary identification or simply takes offence at the
Convenience store staff are all to aware of
the threat of violence. Our ongoing survey into incidents of intimidation,
verbal or physical attack directly related to the refusal to sell
age restricted products supports recent findings published by
USDAW concerning growing violence against shop workers. The report
shows that over 75% of workers are fairly or very worried that
they will be physically attacked, 87% are fairly or very worried
that they will be verbally abused. The USDAW findings point to
the clear link between this violence and the sale of age restricted
ACS therefore believes that a clear "No
Proof, No Sale" message from Government and promoted throughout
the industry is an essential feature of promoting a safe and vibrant
evening economy. ACS highlights the culture of alcohol and tobacco
purchases in the United States. Persons as old as 30 would not
be surprised to receive a proof of age request when attempting
to buy alcohol. It is not considered an insult and it is an accepted
necessity in protecting the young from illegal alcohol consumption
and preventing the disorder that excessive drinking in public
places can cause. This culture was promoted and fostered in no
small part by the high profile and consistent support expressed
by the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Once this support is apparent at the highest
level, it will filter down through the local authorities and local
police forces and a partnership to work together to prevent underage
ACS believes that recognition of the importance
of a "No Proof, No Sale" message from the Sub-Committee
would help to make the message a priority for the Governments.
ACS have deliberately considered "No Proof
No Sale" in terms of crime rather than simply a licensing
issue. This is because that is the link that is all too apparent
to our members on the ground. Reports show that the same minority
of youths that consistently try to deceive and intimidate retailers
when purchasing alcohol and tobacco are the ones that constitute
a high profile manifestation of anti-social behaviour on the streets.
ACS strongly support the reform of licensing
laws so as to provide our members the flexibility to sell alcohol
for longer periods of the day and the modernisation of the administration
However, ACS is concerned that whilst licensing
policies should be set locally, they should be framed according
to strict guidelines from the Department of Culture Media and
Sport. There should be equality of cost between authorities and
the regulations should have the same fundamental provisions and
processes across the country. Inconsistency between authorities
on costs provisions and the fundamental regulations would severely
disadvantage our members competing as they are in a national convenience
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)
ACS welcomes the BIDs intiative as a means of
promoting a vibrant economy and community in urban centres across
the country. However we are concerned about the potentially unfair
effect that city centre initiatives could have on our members
trading in secondary areas.
Experience from the United States suggests that
BIDs will be run on a large scale, with one BID for each major
city. Given the concentration of businesses in town and city centres,
and the prominence of town centre managers in drawing up guidance
for BIDs, it is likely that BIDs will focus in these centres.
This may have a negative impact on business in secondary areas,
who will not see the benefits of investment, and who may even
have to cope with negative knock-on effects such as displaced
crime and anti-social behaviour.
ACS welcomes proposals to amend the Use Classes
Order to clarify the use class of takeaway outlets. These outlets,
where food is cooked on the premises, are likely to be the focus
of noise and disturbance to local residents, and local authorities
should have the ability to control their development through the
Use Classes Order. ACS is encouraged that the ODPM has indicated
that convenience stores for whom hot "food to go" is
an ancillary part of the business would not be viewed in the same
way as takeaways under the revised Order.
ACS hopes that the Sub-Committee will understand
the role that the convenience store plays in the evening economy.
We wish to see approaches to crime prevention, Business Improvement
Districts, under age purchases and local administration of licensing
that are consistent and supportive of the valuable role played
by neighbourhood retailers and all those operating in secondary
1 USDAW "Voices From the Frontline" Report,
December 2002. Back