How superstores destroy jobs and local resilience

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Posted Dec 19 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
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A report by the National Retail Planning Forum (partly financed by supermarkets) found that in a catchment of 15km around 93 new superstores, around 10,000 new retail jobs were created and 35,000 destroyed – a net loss of 25,000 retail jobs (full-time equivalent). Each new superstore means the loss of 276 full-time equivalent jobs.

Here’s the report: http://www.nrpf.org.uk/PDF/Occasional2.pdf

The figures are from the 1990s, and so the figures might be different if the study were carried out today, simply because, as the number of superstores grows, there are fewer small businesses, especially retail premises, to be closed by competition from superstores. So really, if figures could be obtained from the development of the first supermarkets, job losses would probably have been much higher. But instead of speculating, let’s have a look at what the 90s study tells us.

So, to planners, the message is that if you want to protect local jobs, say no to applications for out-of-town superstores, because each new superstore means the loss of getting on for 300 jobs. Not only that, but the jobs lost in small businesses will be much more interesting and autonomous than the shelf-stacking and checkout till jobs that superstores provide. Local authorities everywhere decry the lingering death of many of our High Streets, but they would be taken a bit more seriously if they did something about the growth of superstores.

Local resilience is a term at the heart of the Transition movement – what it means is the ability of a local community to provide for itself – especially in the face of peak oil and climate change – both of which will make it more difficult to provide for ourselves with produce from the other side of the world. It will also, by the way, make it a lot more difficult to drive to out-of-town superstores, rather than walk, cycle or bus to the market and small(er) shops in the centre of town. But the main problem, I think, for local resilience posed by superstores is that, unlike small shops and market stalls, they exist to maximise returns to their shareholders – and in what way can the sucking of money out of our communities to pay distant (and already wealthy) shareholders contribute to local resilience? The  answer of course, is that it can’t. Superstores destroy local resilience.

Furthermore, fewer visits to town centres means a loss of service jobs there too – and sure enough, superstores have stepped in to provide these services too (pharmacies, travel agents etc.), all of which means more money sucked out of communities, and more jobs lost.

If you want local resilience – i.e. strong, safe, buzzing local communities – then the message is clear. Don’t use superstores (or even supermarkets – they still exist to service shareholders, and so contribute to the sucking of resources out of a community, in the same way that all types of corporate branches do, whether they’re banks, coffee shops or electrical retailers. Corporate branches also destroy the unique character of your community, as all High Streets start to look the same.

It’s hard to avoid corporate businesses, but other options do exist. They include:

  1. community-supported agriculture
  2. small shops, bakeries etc.
  3. veg box deliveries, farmers’ markets and other direct sales
  4. produce your own food

By the way, on point no. 3 above, for Romanians (as well as people from many other countries who have yet to experience the joys of superstores), farmers’ markets are just called markets. When I explained to Romanian friends that a farmers’ market was where local farmers brought local produce to sell in a special market in the centre of their nearest town, they failed to see what was ‘special’ about it. For them, that’s exactly what a market is – and they’re everywhere.

When it comes to the point above about superstores sucking out resources from communities to pay external shareholders, there are two notable exceptions – the Co-op and Waitrose – the Co-op is of course a co-operative organisation owned by its members, with no shareholders, and Waitrose is a partnership that is owned by its staff via shares, but with no external shareholders.