As we go to press, the general election is, effectively, underway. The media is on high alert. The parties have moved into overdrive. The candidates have started to burn shoe leather. Now is the opportunity for NOffLA members to make their case to those who would seek to govern this country.
The current recession has decimated the Irish retail sector. Figures just released by Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) confirm that December 2010 was the 34th consecutive month of decline in retail sales in this country. More recently, the third week in January proved to be the worst week for retail in recent years. As a result, Retail Excellence Ireland is predicting that over 400 retail stores will close during January 2011.
Four hundred retail closures – at a time when both exchange rates and VAT rates would appear to discourage cross-border trade. Four hundred retail closures – the vast majority of which are indigenous Irish businesses who have been the beneficiaries. Four hundred retail closures – behind each of which are many families personally devastated, perhaps after years of service to their employer and to their community.
Speaking at the launch of the retail figures, REI chief executive officer, David Fitzsimons, said: “As the measures contained in Budget 2011 work their way into real and anticipated incomes, the disposable income consumers have to spend has been reduced. Together with the current political uncertainty and prospect of a general election, this is likely to hamper any prospects of an immediate return to growth and more probably could contribute to accelerated market decline.”
Any Dáil candidate, and / or their party, needs to provide a workable proposition for a way forward which does not solely depend on punitive taxation provisions.
A second issue that should be brought to the attention of Dáil candidates is that of the responsible sale of alcohol and the disregard for this throughout the multiple sector. NOffLA’s approach to Responsible Trading in the Community appears to have gained particular traction in various quarters of late with increased calls for an end to the availability of cheap alcohol. Such calls have come from a widening group of professional and community organisations that realise that alcohol is very different from other retail products and should be treated as such.
The most recent of these was January’s call by Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) for the incoming government to follow World Health Organisation advice, that, “if governments want to be effective in reducing alcohol-related harm, they must tackle the two key policy areas of price and availability of alcohol”.
Disjointed government policy
A statement from the director of Alcohol Action Ireland, Fiona Ryan, reiterated the view held by NOffLA for some time: “The current government’s alcohol policies remain disjointed. On the one hand, the government states that alcohol-related harm is a serious public health issue, but on the other, almost every move it has made around pricing and regulation has been to maintain the widespread availability of alcohol at relatively cheap prices.”
The AAI director was also clear as to how this matter should be addressed: “Cheap alcohol, widely available and easily accessible, is fuelling a health and wellbeing crisis of which children and young people are the first casualties. There are steps we can take: introduce a minimum price for alcohol – a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold; curb availability and accessibility and restrict the promotion of alcohol. Alcohol is a controlled substance and we act as if it’s a grocery”.
Some €100,000 was spent in one weekend alone last year by multiples and discount advertising unprecedented low alcohol prices – including incentives for multiple purchases. There has also been very clear evidence of below-cost selling. This is a direct example of predatory pricing, with alcohol being used as a loss leader and is exactly what NOffLA warned would be the result of the removal of the ban on below-cost selling.
Members of the National Off-Licence Association and their associates throughout the drinks industry should confront former government candidates with these facts and demand solutions to the situations that have been created directly as a result of prevailing government policies. Similarly, candidates from other political parties should be required to outline their policies for dealing with the current critical situation.