Mark Prisk. Make a note of the name. You'll be hearing a lot more from him. While I was working for DD he was the Home Affairs whip and a very good one he was too. Always cheerful, always helpful, nothing was too much trouble. I was delighted when he was promoted to be Alan Duncan's number two to cover small business. Today he held a summit of retailers with the Federation of Small Businesses to look at the problems of small retailers - a subject dear to my heart. He said:
"Independent retailers are facing a range of different threats and opportunities and I want to see how I can help them. Today's meeting has identified those issues which most concern small shops: from the power of the supermarkets, through the effects of street crime, to the impact of new parking charges or poor planning. Clearly, all retailers must respond to the demands of their customers, but I also believe that a Conservative Government could take positive action to help save our shops. I will be calling again on the Government to join us in this debate. There is a whole range of important issues – such as planning, business rates and rents, crime against business, and regulation - where we need to consider Government's proper role and look at how we can ensure that small businesses are able to compete fairly. We also need to look at ways of encouraging best practice and innovation so that we retain the diversity and character of our high streets."
This is exactly the sort of thing frontbenchers should be doing. Identifying an issue, talking to the people at the sharp end as a precursor to developing policy. And believe me, this is a real issue. People are fed up with the homogenisation of our High Streets. The challenge for the Conservatiuves is to decide what can be done about it.