Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  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 products.

  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.

THE ASSOCIATION OF CONVENIENCE STORES

  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.

ISSUES TO ADDRESS

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 physical attack.

  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 request.

  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 products[1]

  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 drinking.

  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.

Licensing Reform

  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 of licences.

  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 retail market.

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.

USE CLASSES ORDER

  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.

CONCLUSION

  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 areas.


1   USDAW "Voices From the Frontline" Report, December 2002. Back


 
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