Retailer protection: a tale of two governments

Antony Begley

The last six months have seen everyone and their granny falling over themselves to praise local retailers.

What a sterling job we’ve done keeping communities across the land fed, watered and functioning in the most trying times in living memory. Retail staff were even anointed with the hallowed ‘key worker’ status, so vital were they to the functioning of society during the pandemic.

Yet when it quite rightly gets pointed out that abuse of shopworkers has rocketed during lockdown and it might be an idea to offer these vital key workers a little much needed support and protection, the response from the UK Government was basically a sympathetic shrug of the shoulders. Only days after that official response, however, the Scottish Government announced that they planned to back Edinburgh South MSP Daniel Johnson’s Shopworker Protection Bill – and they duly kept their promise. This may have been pure coincidence, but given the ongoing face-off between Nicola and Boris, it does smack a little of political point-scoring.

Whatever the reason for the timing, it’s a very welcome development for local retailers in Scotland. The Scottish Government has a long history of ‘progressive’ legislation that seems to get rushed through with little thought for the consequences at the coal face of convenience stores across the country. In its desire to be ‘first’ with legislation like the tobacco display ban and DRS, for instance, the Scottish Government has often found itself at odds with the local retailing sector who invariably have to pick up the pieces, communicate the new legislation to often baffled customers and then ask their staff to police it in-store, all with close to zero support from the Government.

In fact, it doesn’t require much of a leap of the imagination to see how this strategy has actually contributed to the problem of shopworker abuse. So it’s pleasing to finally have the prospect of a bit of ‘progressive’ legislation that actually works in our sector’s favour, offering retail staff the sort of protection that they have long been desperate for – and deserving of.

There’s still a long way to go on Johnson’s Bill but with the backing of the Scottish Government, there’s a strong possibility it will make it into law and store staff across Scotland will finally be able to feel that they are no longer the forgotten heroes.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director