By Alex Jackman - 8 February 2013
Last week saw the former Tesco boss, Sir Terry Leahy, on the Beeb’s Desert Island Discs radio programme. Imagine the surprise of many retailers across the land who’d tuned in, to then hear an extraordinary attack on the nation’s high street retailers, which went so far as describing the closure of small shops as ‘progress’.
Has he forgotten Tesco’s origins? Let’s not forget, Tesco started out as a series of market stalls before it grew in to the successful, multinational company it is now. In doing so, it will have inspired other entrepreneurs into business.
Without the presence of the high street to nurture it in the early days, Tesco would never have succeeded. That it has grown into such a large business is admirable, but that it can do so by changing the terms of the game is unacceptable.
It is true, as Leahy pointed out, that in these difficult economic times a ‘£3 chicken’ may be more financially appealing than quality, local meats in a high street butcher. It is equally true that people vote with their feet.
To these independent retailers ‘progress’ means businesses growing their model fairly by not paying making suppliers wait for 90 days, restricting their cash flow and causing business difficulty, if not closure.
‘Progress’ means paying a fair amount for goods, not squeezing farmers to sell milk below cost. In other words, 'progress' should not be a pseudonym for restricting other business’ profitability for another’s gain – or should we say ‘profit’.
What we need is a national government and local governments working together and supporting high streets by lowering parking charges, reducing business rates and even the introduction of a small business focus day to promote local produce.
We had some interesting discussions with senior Labour politicians this week about importing the USA Small Business Day concept. They are very keen to introduce it as soon as this year and as part of our ongoing Get Britain Trading campaign, we also feel such a day could be a boost to local businesses.
In the meantime, what we definitely do not need are former supermarket Chief Executives dismissing the very structures that nurtured their own success. If anything we suggest it is this kind of thinking that needs to be confined to a desert island.