Time to overcome c-store barriers

Scotland’s MSPs created grocery industry history when they debated the position of the country’s independent c-stores. Scottish Grocer’s John McNee took in the debate.

Fergus Ewing, above left, the Scottish Government enterprise minister, who spoke at the Holyrood debate and, above right, Gordon MacDonald, MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, who moved to have the Scottish c-store industry debated.

SCOTTISH Government Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing has pledged to help convenience store retailers break through the “barriers to success” following a historic debate at the heart of the country’s political establishment.

For the first time, politicians in the Scottish Parliament debated the contribution of community shops to the economy, and the pressures put on retailers by tax, regulation and the expansion of giant supermarket companies into the convenience channel.
Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald, who brought the debate forward, told parliament: “All is not well in the convenience store sector, especially among family-owned businesses.
“Two main issues affect them: the growth of the convenience store network of the big four supermarkets and the resultant overprovision of grocery stores.”
Politicians from across the political spectrum took part in the debate, including Labour’s Margaret McCulloch, the SNP’s Chic Brodie and Conservative Gavin Brown.
They highlighted the contribution made by independent convenience stores in Scotland, and called for more to be done to reduce rates, cut bureaucracy and tackle illicit trade.
The Scottish Government’s minister for enterprise, energy and tourism, Fergus Ewing, pledged to work with convenience store retailers on issues that are “creating barriers to success”.
Watching the debate were Edinburgh retailers Dennis and Linda Williams, currently battling to keep a new Aldi from opening close to their store on land that had been thought earmarked for social housing.
Dennis told Scottish Grocer he was pleased to hear politicians recognise the pressures on the sector, but said it was important for all independent retailers to “keep the momentum going”.
He added: “We need our MSPs to understand how important convenience stores are to the local economy.
“Gordon is a great supporter of independent retailers in his constituency and he has done an outstanding job getting this debate into parliament.”
Scotland’s convenience stores employ over 41,000 people.
That’s more than the combined total employment provided in agriculture, forestry, fishing and the motor trade.
But trade representative organisation the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, while acknowledging that politicians do engage with c-stores on matters of specific interest such as licensing and food and health, thinks it’s time that the sector’s importance to employment, the general economy and social cohesion gained as high a profile as other industries.
And the group aims to make progress towards that goal now that lines of communication have been opened. SGF public affairs manager John Lee said: “This is a major step forward for the independent convenience store sector in Scotland.
“Our members use local tradesmen, local shop fitters, local suppliers for produce, local garages; they each re-invest hundreds of thousands of pounds back into the local economy. This has now been recognised by the Scottish Parliament.
“We need action. We will take the minister at his word and meet with him to discuss key issues such as the planning system, competition and business rates.”
• The official report of the debate is on the Parliamentary Business section of the Scottish Parliament website at