February 4, 2014

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In Formby, Crosby and Maghull, many hardworking ordinary people run their own businesses and do their best to make a living. 

These businesses are at the heart of the community and employ many local people as well. But they face many difficulties. Competition from supermarkets and from the internet has meant many local shops have closed and all of our high streets show the effects with the number of empty units on the one hand and the increase of charity shops on the other. 

My office is above two shops and a number of different local traders have tried their luck and then moved on when things haven’t worked out.

In parliament I asked about the impact that the supermarkets have on independent retailers and whether there was anything that could be done to help.

This is a problem around the country and MPs from different parties have told me they are worried about the same issue. 

Now most of us like the convenience of shopping at supermarkets and my family are no different but local shopkeepers need our support as well. Otherwise, Formby, Crosby and Maghull will have even fewer shops and we will see ever more decline. 

I have written before that Sainsbury’s is crucial if Crosby centre is to see any kind of recovery. Businesses like Albion, Mojoes and the revived Satterthwaites have all shown what is possible but for those businesses and others to thrive, Sainsbury’s has to come back to the table and work with the local community to develop the area or let someone else do so.

They along with the other supermarkets have a responsibility to the communities where they make their money. 

And the same is true in Formby. 

Waitrose gives away free newspapers and coffee as one way to attract customers. Now I don’t have anything against Waitrose or John Lewis, on the contrary, I admire their principled approach to business and the way they treat staff and customers, but I do think they should take another look at the effect of their free offers on local newsagents and cafes and on other shops with the way that footfall is cut if people only shop in the supermarket and don’t go to the rest of the shopping area. 

They should be asking themselves the question about what their responsibility is to the community and what is fair and reasonable in the way they trade. 

Similarly with Tesco who set up a hand car wash in competition with the next door car wash on Formby Industrial Estate. They also opened a Timpson’s which affects retailers in the village. 

The services opened by Tesco are of course convenient and welcomed by many customers. So while I am asking the supermarkets to think about their responsibilities, perhaps we all need to think about where we spend our money. 

There are many times when the convenience of doing everything at the supermarket will win over any desire to support local shops. But there are times when most of us could plan a bit better. We can do our weekly shop at Tesco or Asda or Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s or Waitrose. But most of us could also make a positive choice to support our local independent retailers whether that means buying a cup of coffee or our newspaper or having our car washed by a local business. 

The answer I was given to my question in parliament by the Leader of The House of Commons, Andrew Lansley was not encouraging. 

Mr Lansley told me that supermarkets can do what they like. It’s called competition. Sadly he missed the point of my question. Local independent retailers can’t compete if the big supermarkets decide to take everything for themselves. And in the end we will all lose out if there are no local shops left to make up our town centres and high streets.

I have a debate in parliament where I am asking the government for support for independent retailers so that Formby, Crosby, Maghull and Aintree can all thrive as well as recognising the benefits the supermarket giants bring. 

I hope that the government agrees with the local shopkeepers who have told me their stories and also told me that they need a level playing field. 

Competition yes, but fair competition. Sounds reasonable to me.