Morrisons in no man’s land

Have your say

When German brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht took over their mother’s tiny shop in 1946, they could scarcely have imagined that it would spawn a retail empire boasting more than 9,000 stores in 18 countries.

When German brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht took over their mother’s tiny shop in 1946, they could scarcely have imagined that it would spawn a retail empire boasting more than 9,000 stores in 18 countries.

Yet the success of their Aldi brand – alongside that of German rival Lidl – has triggered a striking transformation in shopping habits, with consumers increasingly prepared to embrace a no-frills retail experience in return for saving money.

A trend fuelled by the recession and the resulting squeeze on household budgets is being felt most keenly by the big four, with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons all struggling to cling on to their market share in the face of the inexorable rise of these so-called “hard-discount” supermarkets.

Having turned to the likes of Aldi and Lidl when times were tight, many shoppers simply see no reason to turn back, even now that the pressure on their wallets and purses has started to ease.

It is a phenomenon that leaves the likes of Bradford-based Morrisons in a perilous predicament. Having reported a £176m loss and posted profit warnings for this year, under pressure chief executive Dalton Philips has pledged to slash prices in order to meet the German discount giants head-on.

Yet it remains to be seen whether this alone will be enough to reverse Morrisons fortunes – not least because of a failure to move with the times which has left it in danger of being marooned in no man’s land.

Having been founded on the principle of offering value for money, it is now more expensive than Asda, not to mention Aldi and Lidl. At the same time, the company has been slow to adopt online shopping and invest in convenience stores – moves which have paid dividends for the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

This muddled business model is certainly a long way from the decisive leadership that characterised Sir Ken Morrison’s stewardship as the 82-year old built his father’s grocery store into a national chain over 40 years. Indeed, such is the scale of the challenge facing Morrisons that shareholders would no doubt be delighted if Sir Ken could now be coaxed out of retirement.

Gone off the Boyle

Ill-judged attack over heart unit

GIVEN the damage inflicted on their collective reputation in recent years, not least by an expenses scandal that remains fresh in the public memory, sympathy for MPs is in desperately short supply.

Yet even the most ardent critic of past Westminster chicanery would agree that for those Yorkshire politicians now being attacked for their efforts to keep the region’s children’s heart unit open, it is a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

Sir Roger Boyle, the country’s former “heart tsar” has condemned the “downright disgraceful” behaviour of local politicans, who he accuses of “vying for position to be the MP who saved the Leeds surgical programme”.

It is a staggering attack. Surely it would be an abrogation of their responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents if the region’s MPs failed to fight the corner of a unit that treats 10,000 children from across Yorkshire each year?

In any case it is hard to see why Sir Roger should be given the oxygen of publicity. After all, this is the official who resigned from his job as head of the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research after the release of unverified mortality data which led to the temporary suspension of surgery at the Leeds General Infirmary unit last year.

It was the spark for a row which severely undermined his credibility and led some to call his objectivity into question. As such, his contentious pronouncements on the unit’s merits lack credibility.

A keen new dean

Key role in fledgling diocese

HAVING first visited Ripon Cathedral as a boy, Canon John Dobson will now return as its dean.

Currently a vicar in Darlington, Canon Dobson has strong Yorkshire links. He grew up in Swillington, near Leeds, and attended school in neighbouring Garforth.

Despite his knowledge of the area, his new role will be a challenging one. He will be among those tasked with shaping the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. A key asset will be his obvious belief in taking a pro-active approach in terms of reaching out to local communities and growing congregations, something with which he has had no little success in the North East.

As the Church of England looks to the future, Canon Dobson looks the right man for the job.