April 23: Tesco loss is a reality check

SOME perspective is required after Tesco posted a record loss of £6.4bn, one of the biggest in UK corporate history. It is clear that recently-appointed CEO Dave Lewis is attempting to wipe the slate clean by including the declining value of the retail giant’s property portfolio in these results. He wants to draw a line under a succession of scandals that have so tainted the reputation of this previously unstoppable juggernaut.

However this does not mask the fact that profits slumped by 79 per cent to £467m – further evidence that Tesco is paying a heavy price for its flawed expansion plan which saw supermarkets turned into superstores stocking everything from basic groceries to clothes and large electrical items, at the very moment that the onset of internet shopping was changing the dynamics of the retail industry.

Yet, while there is every likelihood that Mr Lewis will now preside over a store closure programme as Tesco shifts its focus back to its most profitable shops and looks to consolidate its retail operations, sympathy will 
be in short supply.

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This, after all, is a hard-nosed firm which was prepared to ride roughshod over local communities, and force hundreds of independent retailers out of business – in order to secure prime development sites.

Now there’s the possibility of Britain’s most influential grocer walking away from some of these areas. Like the banks at the height of the financial crash, Tesco became too big for its own good and there is little likelihood of one store having such a stranglehold on the high street in the future.

In a sobering week for the supermarket industry following a damning report into the sector’s pricing policies, the one beneficiary will be those consumers who shop around for the best buys – stores like Tesco can no longer afford to take their customers for granted and “price wars” will only intensify still further in the year ahead. As the Tesco slogan used to say, every little helps...

The Boris test

How can Tories win over voters?

LIKE TONY Blair and Gordon Brown before them, any joint appearance by David Cameron and Boris Johnson ends with feverish speculation about the Conservative Party’s leadership machinations.

Yesterday’s event also detracted attention away from the Prime Minister’s keynote speech on welfare as he attempts to steal a march on Labour by redefining the Tories as the workers’ party because of its progressive agenda of aspiration.

As Mr Cameron acknowledged, the Conservatives should not be ashamed of their record – too many people became so dependent on welfare entitlements that this state benevolence, totally unsustainable from a financial standpoint, became an impediment to them seeking meaningful employment.

In one of his most bullish speeches of an otherwise lacklustre campaign, the Prime Minister’s words are worth highlighting: “Welfare was meant to be a safety net – not a web from which no-one could escape.”

Yet the problem for Mr Cameron – and the Mayor of London for that matter – is that this message is simply not hitting home in those marginal constituencies that will determine the outcome of the election. The irony is that most people concur with the view that welfare spending should be curtailed but they do not appear motivated to entrust this to the one party, the Conservatives, who are prepared to reward work and aspiration. And, unless Mr Cameron and the Mayor of London can use their formidable joint intellect to reconcile this conundrum, neither will be in a position to lead the country.

An iconic walk

Enjoy every step of the way...

ON A St George’s Day likely to be blessed by sun-kissed skies, few finer places offer a better example of England’s green and pleasant land than the 268-mile Pennine Way which celebrates its 50th anniversary today. Though the timeless landscapes, like Malham Cove where the trail was launched on this day in 1965, remain as rugged as ever, they are now far more accessible thanks to those pioneering countryside campaigners who fought to establish public rights of way.

And its importance to Britain was summed up by Ilkley-born TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh who spoke so eloquently about the recuperative benefits of walking along parts of the route. “The word iconic is over used, but it most certainly applies to the Pennine Way and to the terrain it traverses,” he added. He is right – Yorkshire, and indeed England, is fortunate to be home to one of the natural wonders of the world, one that deserves to be enjoyed by all every step of the way.