Thursday, 15 March 2012

Long Distance Lochhead* Gives Food For Thought

"Unexpected item in the sacking area" is the word at the Tesco checkout today with news of the sudden departure of the retail giant's UK boss.

A slump in sales is being cited but let's not forget this is a company that has opened 1,600 new stores in the past three years and made a profit of £3.8billion - yes, billion - last year.

The impact of supermarkets on town centres, small businesses and farmers is well documented, as is the sky-high pay for company chiefs. So you'd think government ministers would steer clear of supermarkets but instead they're quite happy to get into bed - or truck cab - with them.

We've seen it with bankers, media moguls and golf course developers. A fat wallet is a big attraction.

Today the Scottish food and farming minister Richard Lochhead helped with a PR stunt for Tesco, unveiling a lorry (the press invite said 14 lorries so I was a bit crestfallen to encounter a lone juggernaut) branded with the word 'local'. All in aid of 'celebrating Scottish food and drink'.

Some wording on a truck doesn't make up for the facts and you'd think a minister would know better.

Supermarkets including Tesco are forcing our farmers out of business. Check out the views of Willie Lean from Nairn, whose organic chicken and Classroom restaurant I can confirm are first class.

Willie says: “We aren’t being paid the amount we need by the supermarkets. They’ll squeeze producers so hard they just have to close the doors.”

Supermarkets including Tesco force small independent businesses in our town centres to go bust.

Corporatewatch says: "The British Retail Planning Forum (1998), embarrassingly financed by the supermarkets themselves, discovered that every time a large supermarket opens, on average, 276 jobs are lost.”

So why the need for the lorries PR stunt? To celebrate food and drink? Or to compete in an “aggressive and cynical marketplace”, ie to make money? Check out the words of Salt PR who are employed by Tesco. (Salt fascinatingly also does PR for Wisden's Cricket Almanack so I suspect they are good eggs really.)

As for Mr Lochhead, it is worth remembering when he was elected as MSP for Moray in 2006 he said local shops needed more of a level playing field. It would interesting to know how he’s getting on establishing that level playing field given he’s been a minister for 5 years and in a position to do something about it.

Maybe he should invite some local shopkeepers in for a 'cup of tea and a Tunnock's caramel wafer' in line with the First Minister's hospitality policy. Maybe that explains the appearance of this rather more modest delivery vehicle next to the Tesco stunt?

*Does anyone else remember Long Distance Clara, the glamourous lady lorry driver from Pigeon Street? Oh, just me then.