Tom Richmond: Sir Ken would never tolerate such unprofessional service

Core values: Sir Ken Morrison
Core values: Sir Ken Morrison
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THE request, I thought, was a reasonable one for just after 10am on a busy Saturday. “Have you two pints of skimmed milk?” I asked the chap in Morrisons stacking the shelves.

“Don’t know,” he replied. “Any chance of finding out?” I asked politely as I, and other shoppers, examined the unfolding chaos at one of its supermarkets in Leeds with aisles blocked by produce waiting to be unloaded onto the shelves.

“Nah, four pints of normal milk – you’ll have to make to do with that.”

I did not. I went to a rival supermarket. But the lesson is a salutary one as Morrisons struggles to uphold the reputation that was hard-earned by its founder Sir Ken Morrison.

Morrisons may have missed the boat when it comes to online deliveries and the opening of Metro-type stores, but Sir Ken – bless him – would never have tolerated the shoddy and unprofessional service from supermarket staff who are more interested in discussing the football results and the previous evening’s lurid nightclub assignations, than providing any type of basic service.

The sooner Sir Ken and like-minded people return to the helm, the better. For, at present, the Morrisons offering leaves a very sour taste. And the reason is this: today’s staff clearly do not know the history of Morrisons, the business that Sir Ken built up from scratch in Bradford.

When it was pointed out to the scruffy lad on the dairy section that Sir Ken would be appalled by their indifference, his response explained why this proud Yorkshire institution is struggling to hold its own. “Who’s he? Some old duffer...”

No. This is the old ‘duffer’ who once caused palpitations to an acquaintance who was working in the Morrisons store in Wetherby and shrugged his shoulders when asked by a gentleman for the location of the strawberry jam.

Ten minutes later, the shelf-stacker’s name was called out over the tannoy and he was asked to explain himself. He did not make the same mistake again, not least when Sir Ken went into the Wetherby store a week later to see if this slovenly attitude had been sorted out.

Perhaps Dalton Philips, the current chief executive, should start to do likewise if he wants jam tomorrow. He’d get plenty of food for thought as Tesco start to sell four pints of milk for £1 as part of its latest price war. For, in many respects, the reputation of Morrisons – or any supermarket chain, for that matter – is won and lost on the shop floor rather than in the City boardroom.

IF the Tories are to counter the electoral appeal of Ed Miliband’s proposed freeze on household fuel prices, they need to highlight Energy Minister Greg Barker’s bluntness in the Commons.

When North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh questioned the ineffectiveness of energy regulator Ofgem, she was told by Barker that prices will still have to go up because of “the dearth of investment” under Labour that is now compromising the availability of future supplies.

“We are now playing catch-up. We require over £100bn to go into our energy sector to secure our supplies, and I am afraid that that money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

The Energy Secretary in the last Labour government? One Ed Miliband.

TALKING of Tories and communication, Shipley MP Philip Davies struck a chord when he contrasted the lecturing of Ministers on social responsibility with their timid response to the latest results posted by the taxpayer-owned RBS bank.

“We seem to be in a ridiculous situation where the Government want to lecture profitable companies in which they have no shareholding about their pay and bonuses, and yet they equally appear to be sitting idly by and allowing a company in which they are a majority shareholder to pay more than £500m of bonuses, despite the fact that the company is costing the taxpayer more than £8bn a year.”

Davies is right.

THE significance of Transport Minister Robert Goodwill’s announcement on the funding of new roads must not be ignored – the Scarborough MP said a good rule is to put “I before E”, with infrastructure (I) being put in place before expansion (E).

This mantra should not be restricted to roads. Before local councils, or Ministers, sanction new housing developments, they need to ask – routinely – whether the infrastructure is fit for purpose, whether it be roads, transport provisions, schools, health facilities or the drainage system.

I SEE Nigel Farage has informed us that he will “be out the door before you could say Jack Robinson” if not one Ukip MP is returned at the next election.

Big deal. As the solitary Green MP, Caroline Lucas has discovered, it requires a bloc of MPs – rather than isolated individuals – to make any difference at Westminster.

I’m afraid one Ukip MP will not make one iota of difference to the stance that the next government, whether it be led by the Conservatives or Labour, takes on Europe.

It comes back to this point – if people believe a referendum on Britain’s EU membership should take precedence above all else, they need to vote Tory.

NEXT week’s showcase Cheltenham Festival, one of the sporting events of the year, will be a major test 
for Channel Four racing which has been shedding viewers since winning exclusive rights on terrestrial TV after the BBC shamefully walked away from the sport.

Yet Jenny Pitman, who made history 30 years ago when she became the first woman to train the Gold Cup winner courtesy of her brilliant Burrough Hill Lad, made a key point earlier this week – she hopes Channel Four will learn from the iconic commentaries of Sir Peter O’Sullevan.

After each race, he faithfully listed the first four horses home and also name-checked their owner, trainer and jockey. This ritual ended when Sir Peter, 96 years young this week and still in winning form, hung up his microphone for the final time in 1997.

“It’a fillip for owners – and the people involved. It’s bloody hard to have a horse placed at Cheltenham,” said Pitman. “It’s bloody expensive to have a horse in training. Little carrots keep you sweet.”

n For the lowdown on Cheltenham, see the special four page-pullout in Monday’s Yorkshire Post.

FINALLY, what would Margaret Thatcher make of today’s Tories? 
She’d probably get a stiff drink. According to the wonderfully indiscreet memoirs of former backbencher Jerry Hayes, she was distinctly glum on a boat trip on the River Thames to switch on Tower Bridge’s new lights in the late 1980s.

Hayes recalls: “One of the officials came up to me in despair. ‘The old girl’s in a filthy mood. We’ve given her the finest Champagne but she’s still spitting tacks.’

“And therein lay the problem. ‘Look, it’s after 9pm. She likes a glug of whisky. Call up a police launch, send them to Majestic and buy a bottle of J&B’, I informed him. So that’s what he did – and he was rewarded with delightful smiles.”

Cheers. It’s a good job they weren’t at the mercy of Morrisons.