March 13: Back to basics for Morrisons

FOR MORRISONS to rise again, it was always clear that the supermarket group would have to make painful sacrifices and unfortunately that price is being paid by the 300 staff who will lose their jobs as a result of the firm closing 23 local convenience stores.

The present turmoil, however, is a necessary precursor to Morrisons refocusing itself under new managing director David Potts and a return to the simple values which made the firm so successful in the first place, a move already approved by Sir Ken Morrison, the man who turned a Bradford grocer into a nationwide supermarket business.

For some time now, Morrisons has been losing ground to its rivals, although the two who have been snapping most fiercely at its heels have not been its traditional competitors, such as Tesco, but the discount retailers, Aldi and Lidl.

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Apparently oblivious to this fact, however, Morrisons has been desperately trying to compete with Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s by moving into online deliveries and opening convenience stores.

Yet, although these were areas in which it had been badly lagging, it was losing business to two competitors who offered neither of these services, suggesting that Morrisons’ entire recovery strategy was deeply misguided.

Instead of this focus on deliveries and convenience stores, Morrisons should have been looking at what Aldi and Lidl offered that customers found so attractive: good, fresh food, competitively priced, and a willingness to listen to what the customer thinks, precisely the values that Sir Ken prized so highly as he built the fourth largest supermarket group in the UK.

As the decision-makers at the company now seem to agree, if Morrisons is to recapture the drive, energy and sense of enterprise that took it to the apex of British business, it must go back to the basic values that made it so special in the first place.

The end of racism?

Farage’s call is a premature one

BRITAIN’S RACE relations laws are a reminder of how prejudiced and intolerant our society once was. The fact that legislation had to be introduced to try to prevent employers refusing someone a job purely on the basis of the colour of their skin is an enduring stain on Britain’s conscience.

But has society now moved on to the point where such laws are now unnecessary? Nigel Farage believes it has. The UK Independence Party leader thinks Britain is now a colour-blind nation and that race-discrimination laws lead merely to native-born Britons, whether black or white, losing out in the jobs market to East European immigrants.

Labour describes Mr Farage’s call for race-relations laws to be scrapped as “shocking”. But is it any more shocking than Gordon Brown’s promise to create “British jobs for British workers”? In any case, the then Prime Minister’s 2007 call turned out to be mere vacuous populism, while Mr Farage does at least have an idea of how such a goal could be achieved.

The question, however, is whether Britain has matured so much as a society that these laws are no longer necessary. Has racism been banished from Britain to the extent that no employer would ever dream of discriminating on such a basis?

Unfortunately, the experience of too many non-white citizens would suggest that this happy day is still some way off and that Mr Farage’s confidence is misplaced.

The time when Britain no longer needs its anti-discrimination laws should be welcomed rather than feared. But that time has not yet arrived.

Open secrets

Intelligence under scrutiny

THE REVELATIONS of Edward Snowden – the self-styled champion of open government now basking in that bastion of freedom, Vladimir Putin’s Russia – have cast a long shadow.

One major effect has been the much greater scrutiny given to the UK’s intelligence agencies, shown in yesterday’s report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

Although the MPs discovered that GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 do not, contrary to their caricature, carry out indiscriminate mass surveillance, the legislation governing their activities does need to be more transparent and condensed into a single, simpler law which ensures that information is always

made public whenever it

is safe to do so.

Clearly, there is much more work to be done in this area, but the very fact that this investigation has been completed and published suggests that Western governments are not quite so authoritarian as protesters would often like to paint them.