Negotiating a deal with a multinational business takes special skills. Not every person or organisation has the experience or ability. So why doesn’t Shaftesbury Town Council appoint an expert who can get the best for the town from major supermarkets operating here?
Councillor Andy Perkins made this suggestion in a Town Council meeting earlier this month. “I come from a very commercial background,” said Andy. “I live and breathe this sort of stuff every single day in the UK and around the world. We are twelve volunteers who are trying to do the best we can, but it is a gentle approach. I feel that when you’re dealing with large corporates, this gentle approach may be misinterpreted for weakness,” he said.
Andy was taking part in a discussion over the Cattle Market site. The District Council has backed selling the land to a supermarket, rumoured to be Lidl, although Andy doesn’t know which supermarket it is. A number of residents have opposed the site’s sale and don’t want a supermarket on the land at all.
“I don’t think it is a done deal but I do think, on the balance of probability, a supermarket is probably going on that site. I don’t have any insight or knowledge and these are my personal opinions, so I’m not talking on behalf of Shaftesbury Town Council. I would imagine, commercially, the negotiations are advanced with a supermarket but they will be subject to planning. I think there will be a lot of hurdles to go through before anything becomes final,” Councillor Perkins said.
If there is a new supermarket on the Cattle Market, and it’s still uncertain whether there will be, North Dorset District Council planners will negotiate a Section106 arrangement. “It’s basically a payment that is made by a developer to the community in relation to the impact that development will have on that community,” Andy explained.
But Andy suggested that the Town Council should go further and negotiate community funding from the supermarkets, in addition to the deal agreed as part of the statutory Section 106 conditions.
He believes that it’s time to take a different approach in dealing with big business. “We should consider appointing independent, professional negotiators who can actually work very closely and constructively with both the supermarkets. I don’t think you should go in, crashing like a bulldozer. But I do think that the community and Shaftesbury Town Council needs to stand up, be counted and do the best they can for the community by using commercial negotiating skills. If they need to be bought in, we buy them in,” Andy said.
Cllr Perkins referred to supermarkets in plural. He introduced Tesco into the debate. Tesco already awards grants to Shaftesbury community causes through their ‘Bags of Help’ scheme. But Andy thinks that the chain could offer more and, if a commercial competitor comes to town, the rivals should be encouraged to outdo each other as they bid for Shaftesbury shoppers’ loyalty.
“If you have two large businesses, and they are going to be very significant in Shaftesbury, I think they should have a strong connection with one of their primary stakeholders, their customers. These are going to be predominantly people who live in Shaftesbury. Businesses today need to be very connected into their communities to make sure that there is a sense of mutual loyalty,” Andy said.
“If I was the leader of Tesco or Lidl, one of my priorities would be to make ourselves acceptable to the community of Shaftesbury. People will have a choice. They either go to Tesco or to Lidl. These two supermarkets should be asked to contribute to different aspects of Shaftesbury’s community, health and way of living. It’s up to the community,” Andy offered. “But I do think that if another supermarket comes to Shaftesbury we should talk to the two supermarkets to see what extra support they can provide.”
In the council meeting, Andy said any major supermarkets that do not give back to the community should be ‘exposed’. On the morning after the meeting, Cllr Perkins accepted that those words were perhaps a little strong, but he maintained his view that Shaftesbury Town Council must stand up to the supermarket giants.
“I do think that we should be transparent about who is supporting our community and who is not. The form that transparency takes depends on the circumstances. It would be premature to set that out now,” Andy added.
It could be that the retailer has to provide car parking spaces. Many councillors and locals want the Cattle Market car parking provision to be retained and that’s important to Councillor Perkins, too. “The mobility of people and their access to Shaftesbury and free parking is essential to the health of the town,” he said.
In the Town Council Meeting, Councillor Philip Proctor described one way to maintain much of the existing car parking capacity, even if a store is built on some of the land. He suggested that a two-level parking garage could be constructed, similar to the units erected alongside railway stations on the trainline to London.
Councillor Mark Jackson felt the community should be asked what they would like Section 106 agreements negotiated with a supermarket on the Cattle Market to fund. If the Cattle Market site sale proceeds and then planning approval for a store is sought, it will be North Dorset District Council that sets the Section 106 conditions.
Councillor Perkins said that he knows what needs to be done to try to have that money ring fenced for Shaftesbury initiatives. “Strongly lobby with a united front,’ he said. “It’s very important that we put our case that we will use the money well, and responsibly, for the community of Shaftesbury. We have to be on the front foot in that situation.”
Andy’s idea of a commercial negotiation gained broad support at the Council meeting. If the Town Council proceeds down this route, they will need to test their own deal making abilities, agreeing terms that work for both the council, community and the negotiator.