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Annual Conference 2016 Review

The NFRN’s 97th Annual Conference took place on 13 and 14 June at the Riviera International Centre, Chestnut Avenue, Torquay.

This year’s conference theme was ‘Adapt, change, transform’.

We were delighted to welcome Alison Hernandez (pictured below), the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, who opened conference and urged independent retailers to “Make your voice heard or be ignored”.

During conference, Ray Monelle from the Western district was elected as National President, while Linda Sood was elected as vice president. Mike Mitchelson was elected deputy vice president. Peter Wagg, John Parkinson, David Woodrow, Jason Birks, Martin Mulligan and Muntazir Dipoti were elected onto to the National Executive Committee (NEC).

Conference in pictures

A selection of pictures from Annual Conference 2016 can be found in the gallery above (use the navigational arrows to view more). For more pictures, visit our Facebook page –

How conference unfolded on Twitter

Follow the conversation through our official NFRN Twitter account @NFRN_Online and via the event hashtag feed below.

Conference speeches

Ray Monelle's Presidential Address to Annual Conference

Read Ray Monelle’s inaugural speech in full.

Thank you all for your support in my election to be National President, it is a position I take with pride and passion and one I won’t take lightly.

This morning as I came for breakfast and seeing the experienced people I respect I realised the honour it was.

My belief in the work the Federation does for members and as a result non-members in the retail trade is second to none and it is an honour to carry on the mantle.

The Federation over the years has been close to my heart and as a result I have made many friends who have given me support in lots of positive ways.

During my early years attending Branch meetings and local social events it was very important to me to meet like minded people who worked the same hours and had the same issues.

I can remember several discussions at the bar which saved me money in many ways, one being my milk supplier this alone saved my federation fees.

Our branch even had our own local buying group called The Magnificent 7 which used to buy and swap stock mainly on seasonal lines.

As a result of this I became a director of Bridewell UK as we could see a massive potential if we could buy as one.

I have now been in my existing shop for 33 years bringing up 4 children living above the shop which suited me then and still does.

During that time we have had other businesses which only brought pressure to family life and to us having a strong family ethic, family came first.

In that time I have experienced I believe all the issues of a small independent. I have endured shoplifting, staff theft, armed robberies break-ins, to name a few. There has also been the incident of a customer in the shop having a fatal heart attack.

I have also been through hard times with court orders to pay bills and maxing credit cards to the limit to survive, but survive I did.

Therefore I believe I am in a position to understand the needs and worries of the large proportion of our members who are struggling in these difficult times.

Although in a secondary high street shopping area we are very much a community shop with locals coming in for a chat and to find out the local gossip and leaving spare house keys with us just in case. To some of these people we might be the only people they talk to in a day, and we are a real life line.

With the demise of local grocers, fruit and vegetable shops and butchers we are an important part of the community. Many shops also help with local events and provide sponsorship and raffle prizes to many local teams and groups. This I do not think the government recognise and value enough, and I intend to make higher profile whenever possible.

Following the community link we are all very proud of our own areas and cultures and I am proud of this as I do not know a more multiracial family.

Across the country the common issue that has become highlighted more and more is that of crime and all of us has felt the effects of this, therefore this remains high on the agenda. I cannot understand why most crime in shops is classed as ‘business crime’ in small independents it’s personal.

The profile of the Federation in recent years has improved dramatically with involvement in government, trade partners and many others.

This again is important we are a body that can bring a lot of good information to the table this will continue.

The Federation’s offer to the retail trade is second to none and I ask you all to look closely and realise just how good it is and to communicate this to members. To maintain this with a reduction in membership and to in fact increase the offer and put more staff on the road has been hard especially with no fee increase.

At this stage I must congratulate our subsidiaries who are performing well and without their help things would be a lot harder, most of you are aware that I am a member of the commercial board and my intention is to still attend this year as going forward I see this as becoming even more important to the future of the Federation.

However having been involved with buying groups I know to get 15000 independents to buy together is like trying to get 15000 snakes in one basket, but believe in the potential, as to improve terms and maintain costs is essential.

Over the years we have seen a big change in our members businesses. At the first meetings I attended it was rare that anyone opened past 6.00pm now the opposite is true; margins in general were higher, so there is a need to relate and communicate with our members differently, so I am glad we have recognised this and are making changes to allow districts to manage change at their own pace to suit them.

At this stage it would be wrong of me not to mention the hard work and commitment of our Federation staff who having worked with them closely I know work hard to carry out their duties over and above, because of this they  have helped make us a professional, proactive body within the industry and beyond.

Although I know this year will be a busy one I know the importance of news it is still the mainstay of my business therefore I intend to remain as chairman of news to give it the emphasis and continuity it deserves.

One area I need all your support with is the debate at national council.  It is important that we all engage to provide good argument and views to make the best decisions.

It is also important this is reported back clearly and effectively to Districts and members.

To highlight any particular areas I intend to concentrate on would be impossible as I intend to take every task with the enthusiasm and passion I feel for our members and the plight of the independent.

I must at this stage commend the support of my district who without their help and encouragement I would not be here.

At our meetings we have had open debate and looked outside the box to try and think to the future.

I must of course thank my family who are very important to me and give me wealth beyond anything materialistic and of course my shy retiring wife who without her support I would not be able to attend a lot of the meetings yet in her absence I feel incomplete.

But the federation is in a strong position due to the hard work of all concerned from all the officials and all staff, we have a federation to be proud of , one that has embraced change and moved with the changes in a difficult time.

I believe the time has come for the independent and with the right support and commitment most will benefit.

So do not look at our shortcomings but look to the great work, support and numerous achievement of the NFRN and all we stand for.

Here’s to a great future.

Ralph Patel's Last Speech to Conference as National President

Outgoing National President’s Speech to Annual Conference.

Twelve months ago I stood on this very stage and said how proud and happy I was to be elected as your National President.

Today I remain both humbled and thrilled.

But also perhaps a little bit daunted with the task of chairing Annual Conference – the most important occasion in the NFRN’s calendar.

Over the next two days we will be reflecting over the achievements of the past year before deciding policy for the next.

It’s the only occasion when so many of us are together to take stock of the previous year and look towards the future.

What you will hear throughout conference will, I hope, demonstrate that much progress has been made.

And that over the past 12 months the NFRN has, again, met its three objectives:

  • to be the voice of the independent retailer and recognised by the industry and government as a key and influential retail membership organisation
  • to provide commercial support by operating as a collective trading group, delivering positive benefits to members and enabling us all to run financially successful businesses
  • to ensure the NFRN operates efficiently while providing a structure that is relevant to the needs of members in a challenging and ever changing marketplace.

For me, personally, these 12 months have been busy, challenging and exciting, but above all extremely rewarding.

In particular, I have enjoyed my visits to all 16 districts. These have given me the chance to meet and talk to so many NFRN members, To hear first hand of the issues and concerns besetting independent retailers and to gather views on the NFRN and what’s good or not about this demanding but extremely enjoyable industry of ours.

It has also been a pleasure to attend so many different industry events – both internal and external.

These have ranged from trade shows and curry nights to party conferences, dinners and Awards presentations, allowing me to mingle with retailers and suppliers who are passionate about and committed to enhancing their businesses.

Meeting and talking to so many members has greatly enlightened my views about the NFRN and what is needed to further benefit our 15,000 members.

It has helped me to consider the solutions to resolve the many challenges facing independent retailers and our industry.

And at every district visit my wife Urvashi and I have always been made to feel very welcome. I would like to thank all districts and branches for that.

So now I would like to highlight a few of our achievements.

In particular I believe that much good work has been done and plenty achieved on the public affairs front.

Indeed, within the short space of just one week in March our lobbying efforts brought about two fantastic results for independent retailers.

Firstly, the controversial and ill-conceived plans to extend Sunday trading hours were defeated in the House of Commons.

And just a matter of days later – and in his spring Budget Chancellor – George Osborne revealed that from April next year a further 600,000 small businesses will be paying no business rates.

He actually name-checked newsagents and corner shops when announcing that decision.

The rejection of the Sunday trading proposals was a huge victory for small shopkeepers and store staff and a huge victory for common sense.

There had never been any compelling arguments or evidence as to why large stores should trade for longer on Sunday.

The government’s plans were neither needed nor desired.

So to all delegates here today who got behind our calls to lobby their MPs on this subject and to all members back in their shops, I would like to say thank you.

Thank you for so eloquently raising your concerns at our parliamentary receptions.

Thank you for inviting your parliamentary representatives to your shops to show them first hand what life is really like behind the counter.

And thank you for attending their surgeries and highlighting the issues of importance.

On the Sunday trading front the NFRN is also indebted to the 27 rebel Tories, along with the Labour and SNP MPs who voted down these ill conceived plans.

As well as acting on business rates, we were delighted that in his budget George Osborne listened to our concerns on corporation tax too.

What these successes have demonstrated is that the NFRN’s voice isn’t just heard by the people that matter.

It is acted upon.

And that the NFRN is not an organisation that sits on its hands.

It is one that stands up for our members and is a force to be reckoned with.

Over the past 12 months we have met more parliamentary representatives than ever before.

We have held parliamentary receptions in the National Assembly of Wales, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, in the Scottish Parliament and in the Dail, as well as two receptions in Westminster.

At every one of these events, and in the respective parliamentary Agendas that we have launched at them, we have focused on three key areas:

  • levelling the playing field
  • highlighting the cost of doing business
  • raising awareness of retail crime

And to David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon who we met at their party conferences we explained how minimum wage rates, the new Living Wage, pension auto enrolment were impacting on independent retailers.

Of all the issues facing our members, the one that holds immense importance to me and the one that I want addressed is retail crime.

Last year, in my conference address, I said that I wanted the NFRN to get the problem tackled once and for all.

It was then – and remains today – a serious problem.

One that blights the lives of independent retailers on a daily basis.

Those on the frontline – shop owners, their family members who work alongside them, and the staff we employ – all have a right to feel safe behind our counters.

But, sadly, hardly a day goes by when someone working in a shop does not become the victim of crime.

Open your newspaper, switch on the radio or the TV news and often you will hear reports of the headline grabbing incidents.

Of masked intruders armed with knives or guns attacking lone owners or staff;

Of attacks on shop workers with baseball attacks;

Of shop staff being slashed or stamped on.

Unfortunately such incidents are becoming more common.

But it’s not just the violent and terrifying incidents I mean when I talk about retail crime.

Shop theft, graffiti and verbal abuse are all issues that we have to content with.

And illicit and counterfeit tobacco, alcohol and even magazines, are a huge and growing problem, taking business away from legitimate traders.

None of these crimes are victimless.

Yet the police are still too slow in coming to the aid of victims and once there can be complacent in their dealings.

While there has been some success in getting retail crime higher up government agendas there is still much more to do.

So I urge Ray and the new NEC to continue to keep the safety of shop owners and staff a priority for the NFRN.

Within the news and magazines sector and once again, the past year has again thrown up some challenges.

Not least the move by national newspaper publishers to share vehicles has had a negative impact on most of our delivery times.

To bring these concerns to the forefront, the NFRN continued to host its highly successful news summits.

These have brought together senior figures from publishing and wholesalers and I am pleased to report that several positive actions have been agreed.

I know that now the news department will continue to monitor performances to ensure that these promises become reality.

Much is said and written about the future of the printed word and in the space of just a few months this year we have seen the closure of the Independent and the birth and sudden death of the New Day.

Despite this, I believe that newspapers and magazines remain core products for independent retailers and the NFRN will continue to challenge the supply chain on service issues to ensure that this remains the case for years to come.

We will also look at new and innovative opportunities that will help members to get the most from their newspaper and magazine offerings.

Much has also been done to ensure that the NFRN motto, Where’er one man can help another, thank God for such a birthright, brother, remains at the forefront of all that we do.

I was touched to see our operations team, our NFRN Connect staff and NFRN Mutual move so swiftly to help members whose businesses were ravaged by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank.

The actions of the Northern and Yorkshire districts in donating money to colleagues to help get their businesses up and running was equally moving.

Meanwhile, our field force has continued its great work on helping retailers fight injustices and unfairness in the industry.

And NFRN Connect rightly remained the first port of call for those facing problems and recovered hundreds of thousands of pounds members’ money as a result.

At conference last year the NFRN launched its

Empowering Young People Fund and it is pleasing to see that this is slowly but surely beginning to make an impact.

So far, four young people have benefited from the opportunity to develop their skills and take part in activities that could otherwise have been financially prohibitive to them.

As an industry we must employ millions of news deliverers and sales assistants,

So do please go back to your districts and branches and spread the word.

Delegates, we are in the midst of very challenging times but you don’t need me to tell you that.

As independent retailers, we have to become more competitive and innovative to survive.

That’s why the theme for this year’s conference is Adapt, Change and Transform.

In short, to act.

As independent retailers we cannot afford to sit still.

We have to innovate by constantly changing our product offering.

We have to source products and services that are appropriate for and wanted by our customers and future customers.

The same is true for the NFRN.

Just as our members must look to diversify to survive in an ever changing retailing landscape then so must the Federation.

We must modernise and constantly evolve.

That’s why over the past year districts and branches have been asked to analyse how the Federation operates at district and branch level.

Some branch mergers have already taken place.

Others are likely to follow shortly and after conference our Devon and Cornwall and Western districts are set to amalgamate.

However, those that want to continue with the more traditional structure will be allowed to do so.

The whole purpose behind these moves is to change the way that we engage with our members.

Time constraints can make it impossible for members to attend the more traditional branch and district meetings while their formality can put other retailers off.

So the answer is clear.

We go to them!

And we are.

In recent months we have held more trade shows, networking events and social outings than before.

This enables members to come together, to network and to learn about new products, services and initiatives that could benefit their businesses.

We want to give each and every member something more in return for their membership.

An enormous amount of work has been done already to make the NFRN a more modern organisation.

But that work does not stop now.

Indeed, it will always be on-gong.

Our challenge now and in the years ahead is to ensure we safeguard the NFRN’s rich heritage while continuing to develop.

To make sure the organisation is fit for purpose in the 21st century.

So it continues to belong to us, its members

And it exists purely for our benefit.

Before I close, I would like to record my thanks to my NEC colleagues, national councillors, district presidents, trustees and all staff in head office, in Durham and out in the field who have supported and guided me through my year.

Conference, it has sometimes been a challenge being your National President, but it has never been less than a privilege.

I hope that throughout the sessions ahead you will be inspired to adapt, change and transform.

And that you take what you have learnt back to your stores, to your districts and to your friends.

I wish you all a great conference.

Thank you.