Taking the axe to public servants who hold back retailers would be a good start
Listen to this for genius: in a survey of supermarkets, prices of popular items were found to be very similar as between the various chains. On average, those prices had fallen by 14% in the past 18 months.
What did this indicate? Answer: that there is clearly no competition between the supermarkets and a new entrant is required to create some.
If this were a GCSE economics question, I guess you would fail the student for such an obtuse answer. In fact it was the conclusion of the chief executive of the Irish National Consumer Agency on those survey results last week. She called for a major new entrant to stir up competition, forgetting apparently that three of the world’s top 10 grocers have entered the market in the past decade.
To Irish grocers that have been battered for the last two years by the toughest and most competitive conditions anyone can remember, this was a gratuitous slap in the face from an ignorant bureaucrat who believes they can make a career from attacking retailers and grabbing the occasional headline.
Ireland does not have a monopoly on public servants who, in one way or another, are unhelpful to the retail sector. There is no shortage of people here calling for investigations into retailing, or ombudsmen, or decrying a lack of competition, while sectors like property renting and credit insurance, where competition is much less evident, can carry on a more undisturbed existence.
Remember the guys at London Transport who reckoned that shutting large sections of the Tube at weekends, including Easter, was the best option because it wouldn’t impact business? Or the police chief who said retailers were inviting shoplifting by putting goods on display?
Then there are those who produce the retail statistics and pronounce on our health or otherwise. In 20 years of retailing, I have never been able to fathom these figures, nor connect them to anything happening in my business - am I alone?
One thing illustrated by David Cameron’s recent visit to India is that a primary role of government now is to promote and protect the economic and trading interests of the country. The days of going after political or military ascendancy are over. The smartest countries recognise this and have geared themselves accordingly.
It applies at home even more than abroad. What’s the use of sending half the Cabinet to India to sell British business if back home a legion of expensive officials are either attacking businesses, or smothering them with unnecessary regulation, or wasting their time with bureaucracy and investigation?
If Britain wants to compete internationally, we need a government structure geared to that end, just as we had to gear up the country to build a world-beating navy 300 years ago. Retailing is one of Britain’s best success stories, so it would be a good place to start.
Perhaps this is the perfect moment. Sir Philip Green, do us a favour. Those people I mentioned, and the rest of their kind - sack them all.
Simon Burke is chairman of Majestic Wine and Superquinn