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Andrew Simms on the impacts of chain stores on local economies

I was at the Hay Literary Festival over the weekend, and while I was there I caught up with Andrew Simms of New Economics Foundation, and in the light of the campaign afoot in Totnes to try and stop the opening of a Costa Coffee outlet in the town, I asked him “why should Totnes (or anywhere else for that matter) say no to Costa?”  Here’s the audio file, followed by the transcript:

“Chain stores, of whatever variety, whether they are selling mobile phones, or whether they are selling coffee, or whether they are selling doughy torpedo-shaped sandwiches, are a way of doing business that carries with them a particular DNA for the society and the local economy which grows up around them. Because of the way they are linked in to remote supply structures, institutional investors who are also remote and will have no knowledge of your local economy, all the demands and the pattern of business that are focused into those kinds of franchise models are fundamentally disinterested in the overall health and wellbeing and vibrancy of the local economy.

They are interested in one thing, and that is sucking in consumer spending to be extracted from the local economy, shuffled off to head office to pay for centralised logistics, and the expectations of remote, disinterested investors in the City. It is an extractive industry. Whatever the fascia’s like, whatever it appears to be selling, it is fundamentally a financial extractive industry. So the difference between a chain coffee store and one which is independent, and local, and whether it’s to do with who does their accounts each year, or who cleans their windows, they’re much more likely to be recirculating the spending that goes on in that local outlet in the local economy, bringing much broader social and economic benefits.

Because businesses whose DNA is emeshed with the local community bring more benefits. They provide not just the goods that they sell, but the social glue that holds communities together. They provide the financial resources from which vibrant, diverse, and therefore more resilient communities can grow. And thirdly, and equally importantly I think they give a sense of place, of distinctiveness, of uniqueness, they are the cure-all for Clone Towns, because nobody wants to live in a place where when they walk down the High Street they could be walking down any High Street in Britain.

Our identity is drawn as much from the place we are as it is from our family history and the things that we’ve done. So true independents bring economic health, they bring social glue, and they bring a strong sense of place and identity, and that’s why I think you shouldn’t go down the chain store route”.