Britain is a nation of shopkeepers.
With more than 50,000 convenience stores across the UK, small shops are at the very backbone of local communities and are integral to this country. Small shop owners get up early, work hard and do the right thing - I'm determined to help them succeed. However, the prosperity of this industry is under the increasing threat of illicit tobacco smuggling and the cumulative unintended consequences of public health policy. I'm standing up for small shops - here's how.
In July I visited my old friend Hitesh Pandya - the proprietor of Toni's News in Ramsgate - along with other South Thanet retailers. We discussed the impact that increasing government regulation was having on small shops, and what measures could be taken to try and ease this problem.
Illicit tobacco not only robs our NHS out of the funds it is owed through taxes, but also places our national security at risk by incentivising organised crime and smuggling. Small shops are hit hard by so-called 'fag-houses' which undercut them by selling cheap, smuggled counterfeit tobacco. I have been engaging with the Tobacco Manufacturer's Association (TMA) to plan how best to make small shop owners' voices heard. I will be hosting a reception in October for the launch of the TMA's Illicit Trade Survey. The survey details consumers understanding of the illicit markets and its concerning contents are a signal to redouble our efforts to eradicate this crime.
In October, I hosted a reception for small retailers in Parliament, where small shop workers launched a manifesto of their interests to a gathered audience of MPs. Small shops have had it tough, and while the big retailers have access to armies of lobbyists, small shops sometimes struggle for a voice. This event will make sure the voice of small retailers is heard loud and clear in Westminster.
In November, I held a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, in order to raise the issue of ever-burdening government regulation on small shops.