By Max Wind-Cowie, Head of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos.
In Wednesday’s Times, ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie described himself as a ‘Tesco Tory’. His pride in a great British company is to be applauded. But that pride is, unfortunately, increasingly unfashionable and has to be defended with gusto from those - on the left and the romantic right – who have taken to pouring scorn on the benefits of big business.
This week the Progressive Conservatism Project published a report on urban regeneration – Civic Streets: The Big Society in Action – which made the case for mainstream retail chains such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s to be encouraged to develop their presence in Britain’s most deprived communities. For the record, and some people do seem to have trouble believing me on this, our work was not funded by some evil cabal of corporate interests but rather by an impeccably independent regeneration charity - the Barrow Cadbury Trust.
We found, in our conversations and interviews with residents and community leaders, that the arrival of a mainstream retail brand on a very deprived high street can be a ‘game-changer’ for regeneration. Communities that are isolated and marginalised can really benefit from big business and big brands arriving in their midst. For a start there are the material positives; jobs are created, high-quality and low-cost fresh fruit and vegetables are available and previously run-down retail parks are spruced up. But there are also significant social benefits that can have a profound impact on the confidence and the morale of broken neighbourhoods. People in deprived areas know that everyone else has access to everyday retail brands and they recognise the reality that they have been left out. In Castle Vale – previously a sink estate on the outskirts of Birmingham – residents didn’t believe that any ‘normal’ supermarket chain would be interested in setting-up-shop in their area. They felt that their community simply wasn’t good enough for a mainstream brand. When the community action group managed to persuade Sainsbury’s to invest in developing a flagship store in the heart of the estate it brought pride and confidence that things could, and would, change for the better.