Help stop giant supermarkets taking over community assets

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Posted Jul 24 2013 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
interior of the Wheatsheaf in Tooting

The lease has come up for renewal for a very popular pub called the Wheatsheaf in Tooting, south London, in a prime location opposite Tooting Bec tube station. The local pub company who currently have the lease are being repeatedly outbid by Tesco, and (obviously) are finding it very difficult to compete.

This is only one example of the appropriation of community assets and local businesses being absorbed all over the country by giant multinationals. In the case of the Wheatsheaf, there are already two Tesco stores within a few hundred metres of the pub. There are lots of independent shops in Tooting High Street that will suffer if another supermarket opens. The latest statement from Tesco is that they have backed off – but why should we believe them? And even if they have, it leaves the door open for other giant chains to step in. Unless we want every single High Street in the UK to look exactly the same, we have to fight back somehow. Transition Totnes fought a successful campaign to keep Costa Coffee out of their town, as they already had several local coffee shops that kept money in the local economy, rather than sucking it out. In the case of Tooting, the fight has started already, and you can join in.

A campaign has started on 38 Degrees, the local Transition group want to try to raise funds from the community to buy the venue and keep it open as a community pub (and possibly also a shop, accommodation, rooms to hire and office space). Something similar happened recently with the Castle pub in nearby Battersea. There are two local breweries in Tooting, whose beers could feature strongly in a local community pub. Who knows, we might start a trend for community pubs / local breweries.

Generally, we think that the opening of multinational chains is a bad thing, whether it’s in the High Street or out-of-town, for four main reasons:

  • they put small local shops out of business – they can subsidise new outlets with profits from elsewhere, they have economies of scale, and they don’t pay the same percentage tax as small businesses
  • because they don’t pay their share of tax, they don’t contribute as much as they should to local hospitals, schools, roads and other community assets
  • profits are sucked out of the local economy to pay remote shareholders; it’s money that local economies can often ill afford to lose, and yet the major shareholders of multinationals are often already wealthier than the entire population of your local town
  • they destroy local uniqueness, and turn all of our town centres into bland clones of each other

A group of Transitioners were in the Wheatsheaf last night, where we met the Tory parliamentary candidate for Tooting, who is completely onside. There were CAMRA members too, who are obviously against a supermarket takeover. And the sitting Labour MP Sadiq Khan, is also with us. There will be a meeting in the pub next Tuesday for anyone interested, where we can discuss the latest developments and how we might take things forward.

Here’s how you can help:

  • please sign the petition on 38 Degrees
  • contact Transition Tooting if you’re interested in becoming a partner in this community venture (and of course join Transition Tooting)
  • write a letter to Wandsworth council, or sign Sadiq Khan’s letter
  • come along to the meeting in the Wheatsheaf at 7pm on Tuesday July 30th – opposite Tooting Bec station, on the Northern Line
  • support your local, independent shops if possible, and don’t shop in Tesco or any of the other giant supermarkets
  • make a point of asking bar staff what their most local beer is – support local micro-breweries