Retailers generate jobs and property, so why isn’t that recognised by the media or Government?

It’s that time when we reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to the next, in the hope that 2009 will be better than 2008.

If you’re anything like me you’ll have set yourselves some new year’s resolutions: get in shape, do something daring and spend more time with the people who matter.

Despite our best intentions, resolutions are often quickly forgotten. This year, with the added worries about the economy and job security – particularly in retail – it will be even harder to focus on achieving these changes in our lives.

And with predictions of a long and painful recession, the outlook for many of our customers looks bleak. People are beginning to change how they live. Gone is frivolous; suddenly frugal is the new cool. This is the biggest impact of the global credit crunch. After decades of racking up personal debt and remortgaging our houses to pay for it all, we’re now being more careful with our money.

As a result certain brands will prosper – those that offer value for money will become safe havens for people‘s hard-earned cash. Premium products in the new economic world will have to be worth the extra expense.

So as retailers we’re all under a lot more pressure, but none more so than our colleagues on the shopfloor. Yet despite all the doom and gloom, they managed to keep their chins up throughout one of the toughest Christmases on record.

It is easy to underestimate the positive effect retail has on the UK economy. According to the Centre for Economic and Business Research, Asda alone creates £13 billion in wealth a year for Britain. That’s equivalent to almost 1 per cent of the nation’s GDP – more than enough to fund the 2012 Olympics.

British retailers are the engine room of this country’s economy. We’re innovative, competitive and help keep a lid on inflation. We also create thousands of rewarding careers each year.

This year Asda will recruit around 8,000 more colleagues, including dozens of highly trained pharmacists, optometrists, butchers, bakers, maybe not candlestick makers…

Yet there is still a widely held view that retail jobs are worthless. Hence why I think the media underplayed the importance of 30,000 Woolworths staff being made redundant. Imagine that were the car industry or another manufacturing sector.

So what can we do as some of the biggest retail businesses in Britain to protect our colleagues and rebuild the respect that the industry deserves? How can we help retail feel better about itself in these difficult times?

We first need to set ourselves a few new year’s resolutions – and they need to be set in stone. We too need to get in shape, cutting out waste and removing all unnecessary costs. We too need to do something daring – we need to ask ourselves some tough questions, like whether the things we sell really are worth what we want to charge for them.

And we too need to spend more time with the people who matter – our colleagues and customers. Only by truly understanding them will we be able to serve in the new world we live in.

I hope you have a happy and prosperous new year.

Andy Clarke is retail director of Asda

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