Tesco is well represented in Bicester
Have you ever wandered down the High Street in a strange town and wondered if you have actually been there before?
The same shops, the same displays - what is there to tell you you are in Basingstoke rather than Brighton, Ringwood rather than Reading, Salisbury rather than Southampton?
And where are the small, unique local shops that give our towns and cities character? Gone to chain stores every one - or they soon will be, according to a committee of MPs.
In their recent report, the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group claimed that by 2015 independent shops may vanish altogether if they are not protected from the retailing big boys.
Although it is made up of small businesses, the convenience store sector as a whole is big business - £24bn-a-year according to retail analysts IDG.
Half of all corner shops are independents, but according to that same IDG survey, their numbers are falling.
We might all feel saddened at the thought of losing all those small shops - but are we sad enough to actually spend money in them?
Because we do like the convenience of supermarkets and shopping malls.
According to Kevin Hawkins, director general of the British Retail Consortium, the committee is trying to turn the clock back.
"Supermarkets and other large multiple retailers have grown and become the dominant form of shopping because they have met the changing needs of their customers".
Even so, it may be possible to get too much of a good thing. Bicester actually has six branches of Tesco's.
According to David Simpson, president of the chamber of commerce:
"It limits the choice the normal customer has here in this town.
"The choice in Bicester is limited to Tesco Value, Tesco own-label and Tesco Finest. That's the choice.
"We're a town. We've got a butchers, we've got a fruit and veg merchant. A lot of towns don't have those. We've still got them. It would be nice to retain them."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Tesco Group Corporate Affairs Director, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, sees things rather differently:
"People use both supermarkets and small shops at different times and as the report acknowledges the retail market is fiercely competitive.
"My conclusion is that the consumer is the best regulator and there is room in a thriving market for anyone who satisfies customers."
According to the New Economics Foundation, four out of ten of Britain's high streets are now "clone towns" - individuality has been replaced with a "monochrome strip of global and national chains" they say.
What do you think? Do you prefer supermarket shopping to the butcher, the baker and the off licence?
Does it matter if everywhere has the same shops and the same look as everywhere else?
The Politics Show
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The Politics Show on Sunday 05 March 2006 at Noon on BBC One.
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