Tom Richmond: For whom the till tolls... can Morrisons recover?

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IF MORRISONS is to return to its former glories after chief executive Dalton Philips was told to check-out, it is going to need a major overhaul of its management culture.

As regular readers will know, I stopped using my local Morrisons nearly a year ago when it proved virtually impossible to buy skimmed milk on a Saturday mid-morning. I have only used the store intermittently in the past 12 months, invariably if I needed to buy an item after work, and the supermarket has invariably failed the milk test.

I now only use Morrisons as a last resort – why should the Bradford-based supermarket be the recipient of my hard-earned money when its difficulties stocking the basics are matched by poor levels of customer service?

The contrast could not be greater at my nearest Sainsbury’s where staff are only too happy to help if they do not have an item in stock.

Yet, in many respects, this epitomises the challenge that will face the person selected to succeed Mr Philips.

This should be a great time to take on the role – it could be argued that the only way is up for Morrisons after years of under-performance which came to a head with a three per cent fall in like-for-like sales over Christmas.

I hope the new boss succeeds – Morrisons is an Yorkshire institution that was emblematic of this county’s values when it was in its prime.

Not only does its poor performance reflect badly on the supermarket, but it also undermines those loyal staff who want the firm to prosper and do justice to its inspirational founding father Sir Ken Morrison.

But the test facing the successor to Mr Philips is whether they can win back lapsed customers like myself.

This will only happen if stores make sure they place a premium on stocking basic groceries, staple items of any diet, rather than fancy demisting machines which appeared to do little to enhance the quality of its fruit and veg.

And the lead needs to come from the top. Sir Ken Morrison kept his staff on their toes by making impromptu visits to supermarkets – and then asking for items like raspberry jam. Dalton Philips did not. Yet I know who was the more successful grocer...

NETWORK Rail chief executive Mark Carne sought to diffuse passenger anger over the King’s Cross rail repairs fiasco by agreeing to waive his six-figure bonus.

On reading the official report into the causes of the late-running engineering work over Christmas, Mr Carne is very lucky to have kept his job – he clearly did not provide the requisite leadership.

Even though the repairs were 15 hours behind schedule on the morning of Boxing Day, and “the project had long passed the point of no return”, it was not decided until much later that services would start and finish at Finsbury Park the next day.

It gets worse. This lack of contingency planning was then compounded by “mutual failings in the communications between Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), who manage Finsbury Park station”, and which meant passengers could not actually get off trains because the platforms were so crowded.

I come back to the same point. Network Rail and the train operators are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. 
If they cannot start fulfilling their public service obligations, then heads should roll.

As such, Mr Carne is on notice. The slightest hint of a repeat of the King’s Cross fiasco and he will be expected to catch the next train to obscurity.

AFTER so much money was spent on the London Olympics and Paralympics to inspire a generation, a new report by the Youth Sport Trust says participation levels in school PE lessons have fallen alarmingly. I’m not surprised. If sport is to be a force for good in society, as it should, it needs to be taken far more seriously by politicians rather than as a means for Ministers to claim free tickets. What would I do? I’d appoint one of Britain’s great champions as a Sports Minister – and give them a seat in the Cabinet so the Olympic legacy is not squandered.

TALKING of transport, a former chief of naval staff has called for greater use of the River Thames on London to ease congestion on the nation’s roads and railways.

Labour ex-Minister Lord West of Spithead said increased use of the river would “take a lot of weight off the railway system and the roads”.

True – but it won’t help East Coast Main Line passengers and especially those left stricken at Christmas through no fault of their own.

IT beggars belief that there are empty wards at Otley’s Wharfedale Hospital, opened by Princess Anne in 2005, when the NHS is in the midst of a winter beds crisis.

This is a state-of-the-art facility, controversially funded by Gordon Brown’s Private Finance Initiative, which was intended to serve patients living on the outer extremities of Leeds or in the foothills of the Yorkshire Dales.

Yet, while more NHS services have been centralised in Leeds in recent times, there is absolutely no reason for these wards not to be utilised – subject, of course, to the necessary staff availability.

This is not a political issue. Once again, it is a question of management and bosses at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust bosses remembering their obligations to patients.

They, and not the NHS managers, are supposed to be the most important people in this equation.

DESPITE concerns about the terror threat, and then a visit to America 
for a photo-call with Barack Obama, David Cameron found time to reveal that he is engaged in a “great patriotic struggle” to shed the pounds and has given up bread as part of his new health regime.

The Prime Minister, who said his downfall was having a snack in the middle of the day, vowed to “cut the carbs and go for a run”. If he thinks such disclosures are going to improve his electability, he is sadly mistaken – people actually want to know about the positive difference that each of the main parties intends to make if elected. I therefore say to Mr Cameron to cut the c*** and get on with the job of winning the election and shoring up Britain’s economic recovery.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk