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30/10/15 14:40

Scottish Grocers' Federation

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
30 October, 2015

It’s a pleasure to speak today at your annual conference.

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation has existed for just under a hundred years, but its significance to Scottish society and Scottish economy is as great today as it has ever been. In economic terms alone, convenience stores today directly employ more than 41,000 people. They support many more jobs among local suppliers, contractors, and other businesses.

More broadly, you help to underpin the prosperity, wellbeing and sustainability of communities across the country.

At one of the first of these annual conferences, in the 1920s, one of your early presidents said that “it should never be forgotten that the consumers’ interest is also our interest.”

In the decades since then, you have frequently demonstrated that you recognise the truth of that remark, and shown a strong sense of social responsibility.

So I’m delighted to start by confirming a very welcome announcement you have just made, that you are signing up to the 5050 by 2020 pledge meaning that you are committed to working towards your Executive Board having equal male and female representation by 2020. I congratulate you warmly on that.

By doing that, you’re joining 157 other organisations who have already signed that pledge. Organisations including Virgin Money, the Alliance Trust, Social Enterprise Scotland and virtually every public sector body in Scotland.

I hope that individual businesses, as well as the Federation itself, will also consider making the pledge. By doing so, what you will do is help us to promote a more equal society, where everyone has a fair chance to become successful. And you’ll live up to the very best traditions of the Federation’s past.

What I want to do today is to talk a bit about that wider social role that the Scottish Grocers’ Federation plays. But I also want to recognise, very strongly, something else. You can only play that role if your members that make up this Federation are successful, profitable and enterprising companies.

I want to say very clearly at the outset today that the Scottish Government, the government that I am proud to lead knows – and we remind ourselves of this every single day – that it is the success of the private sector that underpins the wellbeing of every single community in our country.

And so, as the government, we are determined to do everything we can to help business.

Perhaps the most obvious example today of the ways in which the Scottish Government seeks to help the business community, in particularly small businesses, is the Small Business Bonus - it benefits almost two thirds of all the retail premises in Scotland. We’ve published statistics this morning which show that almost 100,000 properties now benefit from the scheme. It’s a major factor in giving Scotland the most competitive business taxation system in the UK.

And where we implement changes which have an impact on business, we consult widely and then work in partnership.

In the last year, we have worked closely with the Scottish Grocers Federation on issues such as the carrier bag charge - which came into effect last year. That I believe has been a huge success. It’s reduced carrier bag usage by 4/5 – that’s 650 million bags - and it’s raised £6.5 million for good causes. That level of success wouldn’t have been possible without the co-operation of retailers across the country. It’s important that we do work together and I think it’s as important, if not more important, to try to work together on the areas where we disagree then to do so on the areas where we have.

Even on issues where we haven’t always necessarily agreed, we’ve nevertheless established a good working relationship. For example the Federation helped to draw up guidance for retailers for the display ban on tobacco products which came into force in April. You’ve played an important role in ensuring we implemented that move as effectively as possible. I am very pleased to say, and I hope it will be echoed across the audience here, that we do have a very close and positive working relationship.

So today I want to look at three areas where we can develop that partnership for the good of the communities, you serve, and also for your own benefit. The environment, food poverty and healthy living.

If you take the environment first, Scotland has the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world – and so meeting our targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will take concerted effort across our economy and across our society.

So I’m delighted about yesterday’s announcement that Zero Waste Scotland is making £100,000 available as part of a partnership with the Federation.

The funding will help your stores to become more energy efficient. Double-glazed refrigerators, more efficient lighting and heat recovery systems can all help to save stores up to a third of their annual energy costs.

They can cut your carbon emissions and reduce your bills. Better energy efficiency is good for your businesses, and good for climate change targets. That is an example of an area where it makes sense for us to work together. In the months and years ahead I’m sure there will be more opportunities for us to work together.

The second area is food banks. I think that anybody who visits a foodbank, I know this is what I feel anytime I visit a foodbank – or even any time I stop to think about foodbanks – I am always struck by two very different and very contrasting emotions. There’s a deep anger that foodbanks should even be necessary in 21st century Scotland, in a country as rich as we are, but that feeling of anger is accompanied by admiration and pride and respect for the efforts of volunteers who run foodbanks and the generosity of the people who donate to foodbanks.

That’s why the Scottish Government allocated a million pounds to food poverty programmes last year. We’re now working closely with foodbank providers and funders to look at how we address food poverty in the longer term.

So we warmly welcome the fact that the Scottish Grocer’s Federation is looking at this issue. Helping people to give to foodbanks is a valuable way of showing solidarity at a time of serious hardship for many. It’s in the best traditions of the Scottish grocers’ Federation as an organisation which seeks to serve its communities, as well as its commercial interests.

And the final area I want to talk about is healthy living and healthy eating in particular. Your healthy living programme currently has 1,600 members across the country.

What’s especially significant about those 1,600 convenience stores is that well over 90% of the stores, are based in the most deprived third of our communities.

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

Your programme makes it easier for people to make healthier choices. We can’t force people to eat more healthily, what we need to do is give consumers the choice to do so. Your programme makes fresh produce and healthy food more widely available in convenience stores.

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 that way. And if you’re increasing sales in that way, it’s an approach which can be good for you as businesses as well as your customers.

Last year, the Scottish Government set out a strategy to become a “good food nation”. We’ve already got a global reputation for the quality of our food –but we want to ensure that we can take pride in the food we consume at home, as well as the food we export overseas.

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation became the first organisation to partner the Scottish Government in that good food programme. The Food Commission will work with you so you can agree joint goals. It’s a further example of how your stores can play a part in making Scotland a healthier nation.

At the outset of my remarks, I mentioned the words of one of the early presidents of the Grocers’ Federation – that the consumers’ interest is also your interest.

That basic principle – that serving your consumers and your communities is in your own best interests – remains at the heart of so much of what you continue to do.

So I’m delighted to speak to all of you today. I look forward to strengthening the Federation’s partnership with the Scottish Government. By working together, we can help to make Scotland a greener, fairer and healthier country. By doing that, all of you will play a part in boosting the wellbeing and the prosperity of the communities you serve.