September 11: Morrisons – the past is key to the future

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THERE IS a contradiction at the core of the latest financial results posted by Bradford-based Morrisons – it has sold its chain of 140 M local stores, and announced the closure of 11 loss-making supermarkets, at a time when shoppers, by the firm’s own admission, want greater convenience because of changing lifestyle patterns.

Yet the greater necessity remains the need to restore the reputation, and financial fortunes, of this Yorkshire institution in the wake of the disastrous Dalton Philips era. Morrisons continues to pay a heavy price for its reluctance to embrace internet shopping – and then the flawed decision to wait until its high street rivals had stolen a march before branching out into convenience stores with a flawed business plan.

The consequence? Morrisons continuing to be saddled with unprofitable premises, leased at exorbitant prices, whilst the new leadership team, headed by chairman Andrew Higginson and chief executive David Potts, try and restore staff pride at a time when competition within the supermarket sector has never been more intense thanks to the discount retailers – one of the main factors behind a 47 per cent drop in half-year profits to £126m as turnover fell five per cent to £8.1bn.

Given this, Morrisons has no alternative other than to focus on its core supermarkets– the bread and butter of its business. Market share has never been more important and there are welcome early signs that the new “back to basics” management regime is making a difference with a renewed focus on customer service and front line staff, even if this has been the expenses of several hundred job losses at its headquarters.

Even more encouraging has been the desire of Mr Potts to embrace the priceless principles of the firm’s founding father Sir Ken Morrison – the life president has accompanied the new chief executive on discreet visits to stores to look at the products on sale and observe standards of service at first hand. Long may this continue. For, in many respects, the firm’s illustrious past holds the key to a successful future – something the aforementioned Mr Philips failed to recognise, and with ruinous consequences for all those who have lost their jobs as a result of his disastrous decision-making.

A turning point

MP’s action plan for dairy farms

A consequence of the supermarket price wars being waged by Morrisons and its competitors has been the financial squeeze that has been exerted on suppliers, not least those allied to the dairy sector which is fighting for its survival because of factors, domestic and global, beyond its control.

Unlike Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss who has only just started lobbying her European counterparts for action after months of dither, the Prince of Wales – the countryside’s greatest champion – is trying to offer practical help. His Prince’s Countryside Fund is offering £725,000 to rural venture as one farmer a day goes out of business because they’re producing milk for a loss, a sad state of affairs not helped by longstanding deficiencies in policy when it comes to the labelling of British produce.

As Prince Charles visited Wensleydale Creamery, he will have been heartened to learn of the 10-point action plan produced by Richmond MP Rishi Sunak. As William Hague’s successor, he has big boots to fill – but this could be a turning point for the dairy industry. Rather than setting up further time-consuming reviews, Ms Truss should not hesitate to adopt the backbencher’s blueprint, set out on the opposite page, as official policy. Action, not words, is needed now.

NHS hard truths

Migrant medics are a lifeline

AS eUROPE’S refugee crisis brings immigration policy into even sharper focus, it’s imperative that decision-makers do not lose sight of those instances where economic migrants make an invaluable contribution. This need is even more acute after Sheffield Teaching Hospitals was among the NHS trusts to warn of an impending staffing crisis unless recruitment rules are relaxed so it can hire more doctors and nurses from non-EU countries.

Given the Government’s desire to introduce a 24/7 NHS so care standards become more consistent, and the number of unfilled vacancies that already exist, this well-intended objective cannot be met in the short-term without a greater reliance on overseas-trained medical staff. Relaxing employment restrictions in this instance is a common sense remedy that should be signed off – the National Health Service, after all, simply would not be able to function without migrants and this hard truth does need to be recognised by all.