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02/10/14 18:59

First Minister speech at the Scottish Grocers' Federation Conference

Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
First Minister, Scottish Grocers’ Federation Conference, Hampden Park
Thursday 2 October

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation has existed for approximately a hundred years, but its significance to Scottish society is as great as ever. Convenience stores today directly employ more than 41,000 people. They support many more jobs among local suppliers, contractors, and other businesses. And you have an even broader role – you help to underpin the prosperity, wellbeing and sustainability of communities across the country.

Today’s award winners are a good example of that; for example the “store of the year” - Giacopazzi's in Milnathort - which is run by Joanna and Frank Casonato.

That broader role – the social contribution you make - is a major focus of my speech this afternoon.

And it’s why I want to emphasise the Scottish Government’s commitment to working in partnership with you; supporting your sector; and responding to your concerns.

There was a good example of that responsiveness in July. Retailers have expressed concern to us about the condition of town centres. And so the Scottish Government and Cosla jointly agreed the Town Centre First principle.

The principle means that local and national government will put the health of town centres at the heart of decision-making – for example when choosing where to locate new public sector offices and services.

It’s a way in which public sector activity, can support the private sector, for a wider social benefit - maintaining the vitality and vibrancy of our town centres.

It came about as a direct result of listening to concerns raised by retailers and others. It has been welcomed by the Scottish Grocers Federation.

It’s just one way in which we are supporting retailers. We have established the most competitive business tax environment anywhere in the UK - the Small Business Bonus benefits almost two thirds of all the retail premises in Scotland.

And we have worked closely with the Scottish Grocers Federation on issues such as the carrier bag charge - which comes into effect next month, and which will help to reduce litter and waste.

The Scottish Government values the fact that we co-operate well with the SGF even when you don’t agree with our policies. A good example is the display ban for tobacco products, which comes into force for small stores next April. The Federation helped to draw up the guidance for the ban, and is now playing an important role in preparing members for its implementation.

It’s maybe worth drawing a quick contrast between the Scottish Government’s overall approach – our ongoing commitment to co-operation and consultation - and some of what we see from Westminster. In April, the UK government abolished the percentage threshold scheme.

The move means that employers can no longer claim back any spending on statutory sick pay from the Department for Work and Pensions. It’s an interesting example of how – for some businesses - apparently minor changes can have a major impact. It has led to significant new costs for some shops - yet it was introduced by the UK Government without any consultation, and with virtually no scrutiny.

There’s an important point here. Following the referendum – and the vow from Westminster parties that significant further powers will be devolved to Scotland - there will be much discussion about how we create a powerhouse parliament at Holyrood; one with the ability to create jobs and to build a fairer society. I strongly encourage the Scottish Grocers’ Federation to become involved in that discussion about the new powers that Scotland needs.

However one absolute commitment this Government can make, is that whatever new powers the Scottish Parliament gains, we will continue to consult before we make significant changes. We will pursue a partnership approach - because it’s by far the best way of meeting the long term needs of government, businesses and consumers.

I want to focus today on two specific examples of partnership between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation – since they’re examples which I believe will bring benefits for your businesses, and will also help to serve a much broader social purpose.

Both relate to events over the summer. The first example is a slightly unusual one. On 7 August – it was actually the day when I met Abdul, John and John - Russia announced a trade embargo on food products from EU countries. The embargo includes Scottish mackerel.

Around a thousand jobs in Scotland are supported by catching and processing mackerel. Nearly 20 percent of the mackerel processed here is then exported to Russia. And so the embargo has the potential to have a serious impact on an important industry in Scotland.

Because of that, the Scottish Government has launched a five point plan to minimise the effect of the embargo. Two elements of the plan are to encourage greater domestic demand for mackerel among consumers, and to increase sales to retailers.

That’s not the sort of thing that governments can do on our own – we need the support of partners. Seafish – the industry representative body – is playing an important part. Tomorrow they are launching a major campaign to promote the health and nutritional benefits of seafood, particularly oily fish such as mackerel.

And the Scottish Government welcomes the fact that over the last two months the Scottish Grocers Federation – together with other retailers - has agreed to work with us, by encouraging members to increase the range of mackerel on sale.

It is a good example of how joint working can help to turn a problem into an opportunity. You are helping to market healthy Scottish produce to new customers across the country. And we hope that in doing so, you will support an important Scottish industry. You can help others, while also helping yourselves.

We see the same principle - enlightened self-interest - in the second example I want to talk about. In July and August, Glasgow welcomed the world to the greatest Commonwealth Games ever held. Here at Hampden, this stadium staged seven days of world-class athletics.

The Scottish Government has always been determined that one legacy of the Games, will be that people are inspired to lead healthier and more active lives.

As part of that, we launched the Lastmile initiative - encouraging shops near to the Commonwealth Games venues to sign up to the HealthyLiving Programme, which is jointly funded by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation.

17 convenience stores signed up, within a mile of this stadium. Across all Commonwealth Games sites, 89 stores joined. They’ve become part of a wider programme which now has more than 1,400 shops.

What’s especially significant about those 1,400 convenience stores is that more than 800 - almost 60 percent - are based in the most deprived areas in Scotland. In fact, well over 90% of the stores, are based in the most deprived 33% of Scotland’s communities.

We know that more deprived communities are more likely to have low life expectancy rates; and high incidences of conditions such heart disease, strokes and cancer. So if we can encourage people to eat more healthily, it’s one way – just one way – in which we can start to reduce those inequalities, and improve the wellbeing of people across the country.

The Healthyliving Programme does that. It makes it easier for people to make healthier choices.

Often, that means that stores do very simple things – for example placing fruit and vegetables at till points – that have a big impact on the choices people make.

We know that this approach works. Sales of healthy products have consistently increased by one fifth when they have been marketed in this way. In one pilot project, when fruit was displayed by convenience store tills, it sold as well as the sweets and crisps which had been put there previously.

The Spar in Dalrymple, winner of this year’s Healthy Living Programme award, is a good example of what can be achieved. It has shown an outstanding commitment to promoting fresh fruit, vegetables and a whole range of healthy options.

Broadway Convenience Store in Oxgangs, in Edinburgh is another example. It’s run by Dennis and Linda Williams, who are here today. It has been at the centre of its community for more than thirty years. It works hard to promote healthier options – not just through the produce it sells, but by providing recipe cards, food tasting events and special promotions. It also works with Pentland Primary School to organise healthy eating projects.

Both of these stores provide important support to their local communities. And partly as a result of that, their local communities support them.

The Scottish Government’s aspiration, and belief, is that these two stores - and the 1400 Healthyliving stores across Scotland - can be part of a broader movement towards healthier eating.

Over the summer, the Scottish Government published the consultation document “Becoming a Good Food Nation”. The consultation is open until 17 October, and we encourage you to make your views known.

The consultation made the point that Scotland’s food and drink industry has a worldwide reputation for quality; but our diet has a reputation for unhealthiness.

We want people in Scotland to take pride in the food we cook, serve and eat – not just the food which we export.

Achieving that vision requires a transformation of our relationship with food. It requires support from across Scottish society – not simply retailers.

That’s why we are appointing a Food Commission to lead an alliance for change. We are also going to identify and work with individuals and organisations from all parts of Scotland.

I can announce today that the first such partnership will be with the Scottish Grocers Federation – with more than 2000 members serving people in every corner of Scotland.

We want to build on what you are already achieving through the HealthyLiving programme - especially in some of the more deprived communities in Scotland - to help people across the country to make healthier choices for themselves and for their families. We want to work with you, and many other partners, in making Scotland a good Food Nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Scottish Government’s vision – like yours – is for convenience stores to be at the heart of their local communities.

We all know that local shops are often much more than a place to buy bread and milk and a newspaper. They provide opportunities for social connection, perhaps for older people in particular. They help people to find out what’s going on in the area. They sustain and strengthen local economies by working with local suppliers. And they can promote the healthier Scotland we all want to see.

That’s why I’m delighted to be here today. and it’s why I look forward to many more years of partnership between the Scottish government, and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation - a partnership which will be good for convenience stores, good for their customers, and good for communities across Scotland.