In a fluid economic environment, a successful business has to be flexible, adaptable and have the ability to diversify. The biggest retailer in Britain, Tesco, did not achieve £62.54 billion in revenue by just flogging own brand cornflakes and cheap alcopops to teenagers. Constantly ahead of the game, Tesco are diversifying into local government.
The rather sudden decision to gridlock Walsall town centre with yet more road works will come as something of a shock to beleaguered drivers already experiencing the £23 million traffic calming measure known as the ring road. Delighted town centre traders will no doubt be writing letters of fulsome praise as they watch PFI contractors leaning on shovels and tumbleweed blowing across their shop fronts. The residents of side streets just off the main routes and diversions will chuckle as rat runners, attempting to reach or leave the town centre, deepen the potholes leaving rubble strewn across the road.
The reason given for this rush into traffic mayhem is not about highways management infrastructure or access to a once thriving town centre. Instead, it is about the profitability and shareholder dividend of a supermarket chain. The Tesco superstore development on the former site of Walsall College was scheduled to open in the Spring of 2011 but Tesco, always on the look-out for a fast buck, want the temple of consumerism to open before Christmas and so cash-in on sales of fairy lights, force-fed turkeys, fruit, veg and flowers from subsistence farmers in countries far away and the CD of the next winner of some awful television talent show.
Having successfully annexed Brownhills and secured the closure of its market and the demolition of local businesses, Tesco is now intent on crushing any potential threats in Walsall town centre. Morrisons have already achieved this in Willenhall. By “requesting” Walsall Council to carry out these road works to allow an ahead of schedule opening, Tesco have asserted their command over local authority policy. Supermarkets, not elected representatives, now control Walsall.
Our deluded councillors, especially those in cabinet and on the Development Control Committee (soon to be re-branded as the Planning Committee), cling to the idea that another supermarket is the way forward. But this is not regeneration; this is going belly-up to corporate interests in the hope that no-one will notice that the shelf-stackers in the Council House do not have a clue as to how to run a borough.
Tesco have been very clever in their portfolio of retail outlets. We have Tesco Superstores, Tesco Extra, Tesco Metro, Tesco Express and Tesco Homeplus. The founder of Tesco, Jack Cohen, famous for coining the phrase “pile it high and sell it cheap”, would be proud that his company has added Tesco Brownhills, Tesco Bloxwich and Tesco Walsall to the company brand.
Logic dictates that if this trend continues and the council executive are incapable of providing adequate front-line services, Tesco might then consider offering social care in the reduced past-sell-by date freezer, health care at the pharmacy and education in the DVD and magazine aisle. Transport will be left to the strange looking old man who collects up the shopping trolleys and leadership will be left to the check-out operative who is unable to scan the barcode. Given the current state of affairs, this is likely to be an improvement.
On Monday morning, motorists trying to get to work or those trying to get anywhere near the clogged town centre might wish to reflect on Jack Cohen`s later business motto; “You can`t do business sitting on your arse”. Hopefully, Walsall Council will embrace this sentiment.
Make sure you have your Clubcards at the ready.