January 14: Back to basics for Morrisons

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IT was only a matter of time before Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips fell on his sword. Both he and outgoing chairman Sir Ian Gibson have come under sustained pressure following outspoken criticism in The Yorkshire Post last year by former director Roger Owen.

This was followed by derogatory comments made by the Bradford supermarket chain’s founder Sir Ken Morrison at the company’s annual general meeting.

At least incoming chairman Andrew Higginson has already demonstrated a willingness to be decisive. He had no alternative – not only has Morrisons seen like-for-like sales fall by 3.1 per cent, despite one of the biggest price pushes in the store’s history, but this was the worst set of Christmas results posted by any of the major supermarkets as they continue to feel the heat from the discount chains.

Moving forward, it will take time for Morrisons to recover from Sir Ian’s largely ineffective chairmanship and the abiding failure of Mr Philips to respond quickly enough to the systemic changes that continue to take place in the supermarket sector, not least the belated introduction of convenience stores and loyalty cards. His reign can be characterised by the slump in sales, profits, market share and Stock Market valuation.

After the aforementioned Mr Owen compared Morrisons last year to a supertanker heading towards an iceberg, it can only be hoped that the new chairman heeds the former director’s call for a “proper grocer” to be appointed as chief executive. It is priceless advice if Morrisons is to get back to basics and offer the food sought by its customers at competitive prices, and underpinned by exemplary customer service. After all, these are traits that saw Sir Ken Morrison become not only Britain’s best known grocer but a man widely regarded as one of the greatest living Yorkshiremen.

Critical condition

Ambulance service in spotlight

TODay THE Care Quality Commission begins its inspection of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service – and few expect the final report to make for easy reading.

Claim and counter-claim have been the feature of what has become an increasingly bitter and now seemingly intractable wrangle between paramedics and management.

Ambulance workers allege that public safety is being put at risk by a number of cost-cutting exercises, including pairing up emergency care assistants who have minimal training, to work together in “less serious” emergencies.

What cannot be disputed, however, are the figures – and they show that YAS has a dismal record, failing to achieve the basic national standard for response times in 11 out of 12 months.

It has not been helped by the fallout from the dispute between senior management and the Unite union which has seen the past few years pockmarked by strikes, and threats of industrial action on the day of the Grand Départ.

With levels of trust and co-operation having now reached their nadir, the CQC inspection cannot come soon enough.

For the real victims in this unedifying saga are the members of the public who have been forced to put up with a sub-standard emergency service for far too long.

It is now the job of the Government inspectors to provide a root and branch appraisal of the organisation’s failings while reconciling the toxic relationship between staff and senior managers. Time is of the essence.

Now the heat is on

Pressure grows on energy prices

THE PRE-EMPTIVE move by E.On to become the first of the “big six” energy suppliers to cut gas bills will, inevitably, heat up the debate about fuel prices ahead of the general election. With the supplier’s rivals set to follow suit, David Cameron will use the slump in global prices as justification for his decision not to intervene.

Contrast this with the price freeze proposed by Labour leader Ed Miliband in September 2013. Even though this policy has now been overtaken by events, he maintains that such scrutiny is forcing firms to act, as Don Valley MP Caroline Flint leads a Commons debate today calling for fast-track laws to cut bills when wholesale costs fall.

However this moving of the political goalposts does require a caveat – just how will an interventionist Labour policy fund the much-needed and long-overdue overhaul of Britain’s generating capacity if the energy giants say that they do not have the financial means to do so? If this question is ignored, Mr Miliband and Ms Flint can fully expect charges of opportunism to be levelled.