“Our plan to transform businesses”

11:10 pm, October 29, 2022

Olivia Grégoire, the Minister in charge of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Trade, dramatically returned to difficulties related to inflation, for businesses and consumers.

What is the electricity damper announced by the Prime Minister on Thursday?
We are already helping 1.5 million VSEs whose energy consumption does not exceed 36 kilovolt-amperes, but not those that exceed this limit. So we decided to protect VSE-SMEs up to 250 employees equally and as simply as possible. From January 2023, the government will cover part of their electricity bill with an electricity buffer. This aid will cover part of their costs and will be deducted directly from their invoice by their supplier: SMEs will therefore have nothing to do. In the meantime, in November we will open a simplified and expanded counter that will make it possible to pay their energy expenditure in recent months.

Will energy-intensive SMEs receive differential aid?
We have decided, in agreement with all companies, that the electric shock absorber will benefit all SMEs. It was a political choice brought together by the actors to whom we had, with Bruno Le Maire, presented the options. This assistance offers companies a beacon in the current fog caused by extremely high price volatility. This gives them visibility for 2023.

You also take concrete actions each month for buyers…
In July, we set up a contact point for companies to report to the DGCCRF [la direction de la répression des fraudes] price formation anomalies and punish abusive behavior. In August, as part of the purchasing power law, we introduced the termination of subscriptions in three clicks. In September, we raised the daily ceiling for food vouchers from 19 to 25 euros for 4.8 million employees. Finally, in October, we more tightly control cold calling hours.

I don’t want to talk about “ugly France”: this is our France

Is France struggling with its trade?
France has no problem with its commerce. Even though it is complicated, even though inflation was at 6.2% in October, consumption is resisting because we chose to support demand from individuals by deploying a tariff shield of 100 billion euros over three years . It prevents people from putting all their purchasing power into their energy bills and it protects consumption and commerce. In a more structural way, it is true that the sector is experiencing major changes with the increase of online commerce, the emergence of very fast fashion and, at the same time, a real environmental and social awareness. These are all challenges that I intend to address in our plan to transform businesses.

What do you plan to do?
We will establish a National Trade Council (CNC) from December 1: it is an important tool for representing this sector and for working on its development. I asked Thierry Mandon, former Secretary of State for Simplification, to oversee it. He is a man who specializes in public action who is able to bring people together and who is, incidentally, a champion of simplifying standards, which we desperately need. He will meet all the players and, together, we will define a roadmap, with concrete and fast proposals from June.

Shops from “ugly France”, commercial deserts in rural areas, depressed city centers, that’s a lot of construction sites…
I don’t want to talk about “ugly France”: this France is ours. In 2022, 72% of French spending will still be in these shopping areas. But today, they are the symbols of the failed promises of consumer society. They concentrate energy filters, form heat islands, consume agricultural and forest areas to the detriment of biodiversity and are sometimes unsightly. It’s time to rethink them. With the CNC and all the actors, I want us to imagine their transformation to rebuild a business that fits into a place of life, densified and mixed with housing, services and offices, all with signatures in architecture and modern environments. Therefore, I plan to allocate an envelope of 24 million euros in 2023 to conduct 10 to 30 demonstrators. The State will not finance this change alone but stimulate it together with local authorities and accelerate it.

What about the Action heart of the city program?
It is symbolic of the previous five-year term with 5 billion euros. Trade benefited from 20% of this envelope. We will continue this policy through a new part being prepared by the Ministries of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion.

The best way to get higher wages is to lower unemployment

How to combat commercial deserts in rural areas?
It is very silly to criticize those who distribute bread or pizza that we see in the open country or in small towns. As it is, they are very useful. The ambition is to bring back bakers, grocers and butchers through a program of reoccupation of rural, poor or itinerant businesses. The idea is for young people to take over the trucks or physical space with funding from local and European authorities. The State will allocate, for its part, 12 million euros in 2023 to this plan. It is a topic of quality of life, regional planning and long-term work that we are already doing in France Services houses to restore public services.

Will Black Friday be a welcome trade holiday this year?
Black Friday will take place, we will see if it will have the same success and, more broadly, if these aggressive promotional activities, even during inflation, have a future. I understand that this is an opportunity to do good business, but I also see that buyers have more appetite for second hand. For a teenager, fashion means having second-hand jeans, more than the latest jeans from this or that brand.

DGCCRF is investigating an e-commerce giant in a very fast way, is it about to succeed?
Yes, but I cannot reveal to you the identity of this platform at this stage. The investigation relates to allegations of quality and compliance and the possible danger of some substances sold by this site. I don’t judge ultra fast fashion. Consumers with little purchasing power may be tempted by these enticing promotions. But they also have the right to know what they are buying and whether the products they are buying are dangerous for their health or made under irresponsible ethical conditions.

Wasn’t the Republican President’s refusal to align the wage risk with inflation weighing on year-end purchases?
We don’t want to trigger a price-wage loop that will cause an inflationary spiral. The best way to get higher wages is to lower unemployment. We increased the SMIC by 8% and we saw similar trends in all sectors, on average at 6%, sometimes more, 16% in the catering and hotel sector with great tension. Not to mention bonuses, such as value-sharing bonuses, which work well, especially for small businesses. In 2021, it is €786 in VSEs with fewer than 10 employees. If some political parties regard these bonuses with disdain and disdain, it is because they have never been independent or commercial! When an SME manager cannot sustain a salary increase, distributing bonuses is an important alternative to better compensate his employees and retain talent.

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