BLACKFRIAR: Grocers battening down the hatches as a storm brews

Supermarket trolley

B​lackfriar has often noted in this column that if the management teams of our leading grocery businesses were asked to run the country, they would be far more efficient than the foolhardy, back-stabbing politicians who currently populate the frontbenches.

Prime Minister Theresa May said repeatedly there would be no General Election last year and then promptly called one when she thought she’d win a landslide, which turned out to be an incredibly foolish decision when she lost her majority and was forced to get into bed with the DUP.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson vacillated between remaining and leaving the EU in 2016 until he saw a chance to grab power by plumping for the leave side.

Since then he has suggested the EU can go whistle if it wants any money from good old Blighty. Then Mrs May caved in last month and promised a £39bn divorce bill. Brexit Secretary David Davis told us the impact assessments of leaving the EU were too confidential for the populace to read, then he said they didn’t exist and then he published a load of waffle from Wikipedia.

He then had the audacity to say they were pointless as no-one knows how things will turn out.

Compare this lack of management and foresight from three of Britain’s top politicians with the strong leadership shown by the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and the Co-op.

However, all is not rosy in the grocery world.

The big four supermarkets have been axing middle management roles by the thousands over the past few months.

Earlier this week, Sainsbury’s announced a management shake-up at its supermarkets, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Britain’s second biggest grocer is consulting with staff over plans that will see the number of senior in-store posts slimmed down and replaced with fewer management roles.

Affected staff, thought to run into the thousands, will be given the choice of applying for the new roles, accepting a more junior position or facing redundancy consultation.

The news came just a day after rival Tesco said it would axe 1,700 shop floor jobs as part of its latest cost-cutting drive.

Leeds-based Asda, another big four player, has also announced swingeing cuts recently.

The big supermarkets are carrying out major cost-cutting drives in a sector that is suffering under inflationary pressures and diminished consumer spending power.

They have also been hammered by soaring business rates and a deterioration in shopper confidence following the Brexit vote.

Late last year Sainsbury’s announced that it was axing 2,000 jobs, mainly from human resources and payroll staff, adding to 1,000 head office job cuts in August, as part of efforts to cut another £500m of costs.

Earlier this month the firm warned of a challenging market amid weaker sales at Argos, which it acquired in 2016.

The big grocers are axing jobs for a reason. They know that tougher times are coming and they have to trim their cost base.

Some analysts have said this is due to a bitter price war or the emergence of the German discounters Aldi and Lidl, but this is nothing new. It has been going on for years.

Our leading supermarkets are battening down the hatches ahead of difficult economic times ahead. They, unlike our politicians, are aware of the risks we face as we attempt to thrash out a deal with the EU in just over a year.

It took Switzerland, Norway and Canada between seven to eight years to fix their deals with the EU, yet our politicians believe they can do it in much less time.

In fact, Trade Secretary​ ​Liam Fox famously said a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history”.

The grocery bosses know that times are going to get harder.

When it comes to politicians or grocers, Blackfriar knows who he trusts more.

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