I've always had an ambivalent attitude to Tesco. First, the plus side. I used to know the Managing Director and another Board Member very well - and liked them both a lot. I know that shouldn't make a difference, but it does. I like to support my friends, everything else being equal. I also admire the will to succeed that is so characteristic of the company. Tesco is a brilliant British success story. Now the other side, which is more based on realism than anti. Tesco know how to screw its suppliers, how to dominate markets and how to maximise profits. And Tesco is so big that it needs Government to stop the bullying. My business life has been about producing meat, which Tesco buys, though not mine directly. Farmers have never felt strong enough to counter the commercial power of such a heavyweight retailer. Tesco is a giant that must be controlled.
Anyway Tesco are dominating the headlines this weekend in Montgomeryshire. There are plans for three new supermarkets. I've supported one, been opposed to one, and am uncertain about one. Lets look at them in turn.
Firstly Welshpool, where the deal is done for a new store on the current livestock market site. An alternative spanking new market will be open for business before the end of October. We were expecting a start on realigning the town's road network next month, but it seems that the planners are insisting that the full details of the Tesco store be approved before allowing a start. We expect the supermarket to be up and running next in 2010. I've always supported this proposal.
Secondly, Newtown, where the steel structure of the new supermarket rose phoenix-like out of the ground this last week. Looks as if it will be open before Welshpool. I've not supported this development - mainly because I just do not believe the assurances given that this will not cause traffic chaos. But its too late now. We have to wait and see.
And thirdly, Machynlleth, where its being reported that a real ding dong is underway about whether it should be allowed. Not got a feel for this proposal yet. Telephoned most of my Machynlleth contacts, who all seem to be keen on the idea. The two vociferous public opponents of the development are the Guardian writer, George Monbiot, who lives in the town, and the local MP. I've been a but concerned about some of what Mr Monbiot has written. He's claiming that local councillors are afraid to stand up to Tesco, and will allow themselves to be bullied. I don't accept this at all. The local councillors are not afraid of anyone. They just disagree with the Guardian writer - and the local MP. Machynlleth Town Council voted 6-2 in favour. Everyone I've telephoned to gauge public opinion is in favour. When the MP issued a press release claiming a majority were against, I'm told he was challenged by the company and made to withdraw his claim. It seems that almost 80% of those who had attended an exhibition of Tesco's plans had registered support. Its always best to check facts first. Anyway, I shall spend Wednesday next in Machynlleth, talking to as many people as I can. Hope it helps me formulate a clear opinion.
And then there's today's UK business pages where Tesco's top finance man confirms that Tesco is going to become a fully fledged bank (creating 800 new jobs in Scotland). This is great news. A business which is based on the customer being king, entering the world of banking. About time too. So happens that the finance man concerned, Andrew Higginson, used to work in Montgomeryshire, for Laura Ashley in the village of Carno, ten miles from Machynlleth. Small world!!