To say that this year’s annual conference sent out an upbeat message for the wholesale industry would be to downplay the reality. Delegates at The Belfry heard a superb series of presentations that built one on the other to deliver an indelible impression that wholesaling is vigorously on the move and going in the right direction.

Of course, problem areas were not ignored, but the key words that rang out through all the wholesalers’ papers were, “imagination”, “creativity”, “specialise”, “embrace change”, and above all “investment”. These were the memorable elements that combined to create such a positive news day for our sector (see conference report on pages 43-48).

Back in the political world of Westminster, and as we await the OFT’s final decision on referring the grocery market to the Competition Commission, there have been some helpful moves by the Opposition. Mark Prisk MP, the Conservative shadow minister for small Features > Business, recently raised the issue of the future of small independent shops in the House of Commons and called on the Government to lead a national debate on the issue. Its response was to hold fire and let the OFT/CC findings drive its policy in this area. However Prisk, the MP for Hertford and Stortford, is keen to press ahead with organising a proper debate speedily, not least because a CC inquiry could take anything up to two years to complete.

As a first step, he called a “small shops mini summit” of relevant interest groups, including FWD, to discuss the areas that a fuller debate needs to cover. This meeting took place at the House of Commons in late April and was also attended by representatives from the New Economics Foundation, British Retail Consortium, Association of Convenience Stores and the Forum for Private Features > Business, among others.

Prisk said it was the Opposition’s intention to seek an early debate in the House, either in Government time or using its own allocation of time, to “force the Government to face the issue” of the difficulties currently facing small shops.

The meeting gave all of us the opportunity to air our views in a roundtable discussion that lasted for almost two hours.

FWD highlighted the issues of supermarket abuse of buying power and the need for the Competition Commission to have the widest remit for its inquiry, and that it should not to be influenced by the OFT to concentrate unduly on supermarkets’ land banks and planning issues. This proved to be a very useful meeting that will help to keep the Westminster spotlight on the crucial issues facing wholesalers’ independent customers.

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