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Miliband man versus Tesco monster

Britain is a sleepy nation until a riot wakes it up. The hated poll tax trundled on until mass riots triggered its demise, taking Thatcher with it. Tax dodging on a colossal scale continued unimpeded until UK Uncut shut down Vodaphone and Top Shop in Oxford Street and made Philip Green’s £2bn tax-free dividend to his wife in Monaco a national scandal. Now a riot last weekend in Bristol against a planned Tesco score has put the overweening dominance of Tesco under the searchlight. Do we let Tesco (and other superstores) maraud the retail markets of Britain without check? If not, how do we hold them to account?

The pitch has been queered by the spinelessness of the Competition Commission. They have regularly given the supermarkets a clean bill of health on the grounds that consumers like their range of goods, low prices and quality products. But that ignores several other considerations. Money earned by local stores generate far more local activity than supermarkets which take their profits elsewhere. The arrival of big supermarkets have been found to cause a marked decline in participation in many community activities – charity work, church involvement, even voting turnouts. Over-dominance in the market not only largely cuts out new entrants, but also ruthlessly exploits smaller suppliers by forcing down prices and even dictating the shape, size and packaging of all products offered (while governments are not supposed to pick winners or losers, Tesco regularly does so to absndon). And the power of the supermarkets also often rubs out the option of small retail businesses which have hitherto offered the only avenue of social mobility for many working class or immigrant aspirants.

Who should decide whether a new supermarket comes to town? Current planning laws are very one-sided: if the developer’s application is turned down by the Council, he has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, who invariably grants it. But if the developer’s application is accepted by the Council, there is no right of appeal for local objectors. Should there be? Or, alternatively, should the matter not be decided by the Council, which is often more interested in increased rateable revenue than anything else, but by a ballot of those living in the catchment area?

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