Small shop closures are progress, says ex-Tesco boss

Sir Terry Leahy Sir Terry Leahy was instrumental in the rise of Tesco to become Britain's biggest retailer

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The former boss of Tesco has described the rise of supermarkets and closure of small shops as "part of progress".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Sir Terry Leahy also called some High Streets "medieval", saying the way people lived their lives had changed.

Sir Terry said seeing boarded up local shops was sad, but this happened because consumers were choosing to shop at the bigger supermarkets.

The benefits of out-of-town stores outweighed the downsides, he added.

When asked if he thought it was just "tough" that a family butcher had to close because it couldn't compete with the "three-quid chicken" sold at the supermarket, he said: "Small benefits for thousands of families can be a big loss for the family of the butcher but you can never be casual about it.

"You have to ensure the better organisations come through."

Start Quote

I felt very strongly inside that Tesco was doing the right thing... but I realised I wasn't winning the argument for some people.”

End Quote Sir Terry Leahy Former Tesco boss

Sir Terry got his first job at a Tesco in Wandsworth, London, when he was 17-years-old so he could support himself during sixth form college.

The third of four sons, he grew up in a prefab on an estate in Liverpool. His father was a greyhound trainer and his mother was a nurse.

He said he couldn't please everybody when it came to views on supermarkets over small High Street stores.

"If you talk to people, 95% of the population quite like supermarkets but 5% don't, but in Britain this (5%) is three million people so they have a right to say what they think.

"I felt very strongly inside that Tesco was doing the right thing, in terms of how it was conducting its business, how it was serving ordinary people and how it was employing ordinary people but I realised I wasn't winning the argument for some people."

Large chains

The British Independent Retailers Association said 98% of the the UK's £150bn grocery industry was controlled by just nine stores.

But deputy chief executive Michael Weedon claimed there could be a silver lining for smaller businesses.

He said as large chains such as HMV and Blockbuster closed, more retail premises would become available at cheaper rents.

Among the tracks Sir Terry chose to take with him to a desert island were The Beatles' I Want To Hold Your Hand, Simon & Garfunkel's Homeward Bound, Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough and Pachelbel's Canon in D.

He said he would also take The Complete Works of Charles Dickens and his luxury item would be tea.

As chief executive, he made his name transforming the supermarket from a lacklustre brand into Britain's biggest retailer.

Desert Island Discs with Sir Terry Leahy was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11:15 GMT on Sunday 3 February


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  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    I will keep my medieval attitude to shopping and stay with the small shops and farmers markets where ever possible.I've switched to a local farmshop, the meat is excellent, local and better priced than the supermarkets. The veg is fresh,local and again well priced. There is better out there - it jst needs to be fond.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    It maybe economic progress but I'd say less clear cut concerning social progress. The high street brings two individuals, shopper and shop keeper together creating a society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    if people dont like the rise of the supermarkets then maybe they should actually shop in the high street. The only reason for the decline is reduced customers in the high street. Dont blame tescos, blame yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    People always they prefer local shops, but these are very restrictive in my view. I work unsociable hours and finish at 2am Supermarkets are the only shops open at this hour, so that's where I shop. If smaller independent shops are to survive they need to be more flexible in their opening hours. The majority work between 9-5 which is when these shops are open, they then are shut after 5pm

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    I'm a Brit living in Holland. We don't have large supermarkets like the UK. In most cases we have to visit the individual butcher, baker, grocer etc and to be honest its a complete pain, takes longer, choice is smaller, parking is harder, often more expensive. When i visit the UK, where do i go? Yep Tesco, Waitrose etc. All the expats i know would chose supermarkets over high street every time.


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