Big retailers can make a real difference in communities hit by the riots, says Justin King

Big retailers can make a real difference in communities hit by the riots, says Justin King

One month ago cities across England were hit by the worst rioting in a generation. Retailers large and small were on the frontline, facing terrifying mobs that were out of control and seemingly hell-bent on damaging everything in sight and looting whatever they could get their hands on.

As retailers, we responded to our duty of care to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues, and protect our shops as best we could in the circumstances.

Now, one month on, our duty of care has shifted. Our priority now must be to help rebuild our high streets, and to work alongside others in the communities that were so badly damaged in order to restore confidence and a sense of pride in the places we live, work and trade.

The police will be crucial in achieving this, and we announced this week that we will not make any claims against a number of police forces under the Riot (Damages) Act. Sainsbury’s could have claimed up to £1m, we believe, but we’d rather let the police focus their energy on meeting claims made by small businesses quickly and in full.

Small local businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and it’s vital that they are up and running as soon as possible. Our decision will also free up valuable police resources – both time and money – enabling us to work in partnership with them to rebuild and restore confidence in our high streets.

The aftermath of the riots has shown that communities can and will pull together in times of crisis. But to make a real difference on a long-term basis, businesses, the police, local authorities and the voluntary and charity sectors need to work together in a cohesive, collaborative way. From next week, Sainsbury’s is seconding four senior managers to work for the communities in Tottenham, Slough, Nottingham and Brighton. Called ‘Business Connectors’, their role will be to bring together local stakeholders, working with them for the benefit of the entire community. If successful, the trial will be replicated in other communities over the next few years.

We never want a repetition of last month’s events, so it’s vital that people – especially young people – have a strong stake in their communities. Providing quality job opportunities to young local people should be front of mind for all of us, especially at this time of year. Sainsbury’s announced last week that we are recruiting 15,000 colleagues in the run-up to Christmas and the new year and, as in previous years, many of those jobs will become permanent. Retailing can offer people skills training, personal development, apprenticeships and a variety of career opportunities, and invariably our employees live locally.

Our stores are welcome additions to high streets and town centres as our presence brings in additional trade and has a positive impact on local businesses and communities. It’s more important than ever to be a good neighbour and a responsible employer and to build on the positive things we’ve always done to make our high streets the vibrant and dynamic places our customers want them to be.

  • Justin King is chief executive of Sainsbury’s