In the long awaited report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops, MPs have warned that independent retailers may disappear from the high street by 2015.

Unable to withstand pressure from large supermarket chains, small retailers, convenience stores and grocers are “unlikely to survive” without increased regulation of the retail sector, the report claims. Smaller retailers have been underrepresented, while large corperations have had no difficulty getting their voices heard, the reports’ authors concluded.

In the report, entitled High Street Britain: 2015, MPs proposed the establishment of an independent retail regulator, a comprehensive code of practice and local authority regeneration units.

The report also calls for a review of the tax system and retail property market and government support for the transition of the Post Office network. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops wants to give local people more of a say in the decision making process and calls for the suspension of all takeovers until plans for the protection of retail diversity are in place.

The Group characterises small shops as the “social glue” binding communities and suggests that the decline of small retailers would have far-reaching social, economic and environmental consequences.

“The erosion of small shops is viewed as the erosion of the social glue that binds communities together,” the report stated.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has welcomed the MPs findings. “This is the start of the debate on the future of the High Street, not the end” said ACS chief executive David Rae.

“The concentration of the grocery market, to the point where four retailers account for over three-quarters of sales, is at the heart of the issues identified in the report. There are serious concerns about the undermining of wholesale supply to independent stores, the buying power of the major multiples, and the predatory pricing tactics these retailers use.
“The onus is now on the Government and the competition authorities to listen to the report and to engage in the public debate on the future of the High Street,” Rae concluded.

However, the report has not gone unchallenged. Commenting on the report, Kevin Hawkins, director general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the committee had failed to grasp the realities of modern retailing.

“The Committee is trying to turn the clock back and reverse some well established trends in consumer shopping habits. Over the past 30 years or so, supermarkets and other large multiple retailers have grown and become the dominant form of shopping because they have met the changing needs of their customers. Consumers have clearly voted with their feet,” Hawkins observed.

“Nevertheless,” he added, “there are still many thousands of independent specialist butchers, bakers and other food shops that are alive and well throughout the UK and most of them will still be around in 2015.”

As the debate continues, the Office of Fair Trading is preparing a decision as to whether the supermarket sector should be subjected to a comprehensive review by the Competition Commission.