Sunday 27 July 2014

The high street is dead, long live the high street

Good grief.

English councils propose 'Tesco tax'

A group of local councils in England is formally asking the government for new powers to tax large supermarkets.

BBC News has learned that Derby City Council has called for the right to bring in a levy as a "modest" effort to ensure supermarket spending "re-circulates" in local communities.

The council wants the right to impose a levy on large supermarkets, retain the money raised, and use it to help small businesses.

Let's set aside the strong suspicion that the money raised will never find its way towards 'small businesses' and will instead be funnelled into the half-baked schemes of the cranks who dominate local government (who, by the way, have done as much as anyone to ruin local retailers by jacking up parking fees and pedestrianising town centres). Instead, let's focus on the basic idea that successful businesses should be looted in order to prop up failing businesses.

It is hard to believe that there are still people - grown, adult human beings - who think that robbing Peter to pay Paul is a sensible way to run an economy. A hundred years ago, they would have been in favour of taxing the electricity companies to subsidise the candlestick makers. Forty years ago, they would have been throwing money at British Leyland. This latest wheeze from (Labour-run) Derby City Council shows that no matter how much the left insists that it has changed - no matter how much it recognises the benefits of the market economy - it still doesn't understand the basic principles of free trade. Hence, they say things like this:

"Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good, compared to just 50% from local independent retailers"

Perhaps so, but 100% of the goods bought in the supermarket end up in the local community and they do so at less expense than if they were bought in the high street. That is a good thing. Shoppers are part of the local community and the availability of cheap, high quality products is to their benefit. Money is merely a token with which people can buy the things they want. The availability of cheaper products has exactly the same positive effect as giving somebody more more money. It enriches all of us except the handful of people who are running moribund businesses.

Where the money ends up is immaterial. It is what we get for our money that matters. The whole point of trade is that money leaves the 'local economy' in exchange for the best products at the best prices. The market economy does not exist to serve the retailer. It exists to serve the consumer and, like all taxes, the Tesco Tax will ultimately be paid by consumers. They will be forced to pay higher prices in supermarkets in order to help shops charge higher prices in town centres. It is lunacy beyond belief.

And what is the justification for this looting? Essentially it boils down to a rose-tinted nostalgia for high street shopping by reactionaries, protectionists and the kind of people who insist that supermarkets are unpopular despite the fact that they are always full (due to our old friend 'false consciousness', no doubt). These are the people who hated Woolworths and HMV until the day they went bust, at which point they tearfully mourned the end of an era.

Let's face some facts about the high street. Internet shopping and supermarkets mean that the high street you grew up with is dead and it probably isn't coming back. If you can buy it cheaper online, there is no need to have a shop on the high street. The high street of the future will be dominated by businesses that sell services that cannot be bought virtually, such as hairdressers, and the leisure and entertainment industries. Get used to it.

In fact, prepare to enjoy it. Have you been to a high street recently? Aside from a few quaint market towns, British high street are awful. Not only are they awful, but they have been awful for decades. There is no reason to get misty-eyed about these concrete monstrosities and every reason to want them to die and be reborn.

We can have a flourishing high street of pubs, coffee shops, bookies, secondhand goods, specialist services and so on, but let's accept that the general high street retailer has had its day. Let's keep the fun stuff - the successful stuff; the stuff people actually want - in town and let's kick the boring shopping out of town. And if the new face of the high street means that some of the old shops will be turned into residential housing then all the better. The lack of housing is far more urgent problem than the sustainability of Dixons and WH Smith.


Curmudgeon said...

And to a large extent local councils have been responsible for the decline of their own high streets by making parking difficult and expensive and letting them become unpleasant and unwelcoming environments.

John Charlesworth said...

Taxing the Supermarket will mean that any taxes raised will fund the salaries and schemes of Local Government. In other words it will go into overheads and not Community
services: and certainly not lower prices to consumers.

Anonymous said...

The War Secetariat of any incoming Democratic-People's-English Revoutionary-Liberalist-Party's first administration believes that, like Charity, War Must Begin At Home - and not be exported like Tony Blair and all the other socialists like to do.

The natural corollary of this axiom is that almost all the functions of "Local Government" - as if we even _like_ the gubblement - will be shut-down. The fellas won't have any say about who sells what where, to whom, and who parks where.

"Parking access" will become a simple matter for the Fire brigades, who will be allowed to _recommmend_ (but not enforce) where people would be normally allowed to park if there's no fire. If there's a fire, then shutting the roadway will be the least of people's problems.

Then, we might get some "local high street businesses" again, because normal people with money - which is to say, car drivers - will be able to visit them at lst and be able to give them money for goods and services.

When of course, most staff of all councils have been fired, "Business Rates" will be able to come down as no more people with non-jobs will need to be paid and pensioned. Councils can stick to their proper tasks of planing a few flower beds, emptying bins, mending the odd pot-hole, and employing a couple of old ladies to man the phones.

The double-benefit of this is that we shall have an expanded White British Labour Pool: this will give the signal to abolish the "minimum wage", so that goods will become cheaper for all the new shops - and the supermarkets - will be able to hire more shelf-stackers, cleaners and "checkout-executive-officers" for up to £2 an hour.