Bernard Ginns: Will two days a week be enough to turn around Morrisons?

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THE new chairman of Morrisons, Andy Higginson, has quite a few jobs.

As well as chairing the board at the Bradford-based grocer, Mr Higginson is chairman of N Brown Group, the Manchester-based home shopping business, and McCurrach UK, the Glasgow-based field sales agency.

He also holds non-executive directorships at the Rugby Football Union, based in Twickenham, and Woolworth Holdings, a South African retail group listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Bradford, Manchester, Glasgow, Twickenham and South Africa; that’s a lot of travel for one man.

Fortunately perhaps, Mr Higginson has stepped down as chairman of Poundland, the value retailer, and senior independent director at Sky, freeing up some valuable time and energy.

I visited Morrisons’ corporate website to check if he has any other interests but found that it still lists Sir Ian Gibson as chairman.

Mr Higginson took over as chairman following the board meeting on January 22.

In his maiden interview, he told The Sunday Times that it will take three to five years to restore Morrisons “to full health”.

The supermarket group is struggling with falling sales and plunging profits and has lost around a quarter of its stock market value as a legacy of Sir Ian’s reign.

I am told Mr Higginson is spending two days a week on Morrisons.

Given the importance of the business to the Yorkshire economy – it is one of the region’s largest private sector employers and a major buyer and investor – I hope that is enough.

“Contactless cards set to kill off cash within a decade,” The Times reported rather breathlessly yesterday.

The newspaper carried an interview with Kevin Jenkins, the head of Visa in Britain.

His company saw an 8.3 per cent increase in card spending last year, taking the total to £600bn.

He said transactions using contactless cards more than doubled to 160m.

Mr Jenkins said: “Cheques have virtually disappeared and it’s inevitable that cash will become seen as a peculiar way of paying for something.”

That may be so. Equally, cash may be with us for some time yet.

To prove the point, Andrew Bailey, a deputy governor at the Bank of England, told me about the growing use of bank notes during his visit to Leeds on Thursday.

As chief cashier from 2004 to 2011, his signature appeared on all Bank of England notes issued during his time in the role.

I naturally assumed – quite wrongly – that bank notes are on their way out. Not so, said Mr Bailey. In 2003, the total stock of notes in circulation was around £30bn.

He told me: “I would guess that many people would think cash is a somewhat declining method of paying for things.

“They would be surprised to know that the stock of notes in circulation the last time I looked is around £60bn.

“It is a little counter-intuitive given all the advances in electronic payments that have taken place.”

He attributes it to ATMs making cash readily available, low interest rates and hoarding.

Cold, hard cash will be with us for some time yet, whatever Visa claims. It is king.

Andrew Bailey has been described as the last of Mervyn King’s men. He is the deputy governor whose job didn’t change when Governor Mark Carney restructured the top team at Threadneedle Street last year.

That’s a good thing, as the work of ensuring financial stability is far from complete.

The banking system is “more resilient all round”, Bailey told me, but it still has issues with the way it treats customers, its conduct in financial markets and in respecting rules on money laundering and financial sanctions.