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 399.

    I just had a look at Waitrose online. They deliver to your door.
    They are not owned by the City or shareholders - all their staff own the company. They are actively involved with their suppliers and buy British produce as much as possible. They have their own value brands too. A bit like the co-op used to be.

    And no, not all their foods are snotty or over-priced. All supermarkets have those.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    @197. Chris - and those that agree with him.

    How are they 'forced'? Gunpoint?, Blackmail? Threats?

    Nobody is 'forced'. They choose to go to supermarkets.

    Stop blaming everyone. We choose to go to supermarkets instead of the high street. We can't complain or blame anyone else if there's nothing there.

    Personally, I've no problem with that anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    We have had two Tescos open in the small town where I live. One is a Tesco "Super" Store and the other is a Metro near the station. As soon as the "Super" store opened the nearby bakers, a newsagent and a coffee shop which had all been in business for years closed after 6-9 months as Tesco (and the Costa inside it) were taking their sales. We don't like Tescos but are forced to use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Something else that is progress, Online-only supermarkets like Ocado with lower running costs than Tesco. There is always someone else who is cheaper snapping at your heels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Of course it's progress ........ The progress of increased profits for the supermarkets at the expense of all others !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    I avoid town centres as much as possible now, mainly just because of parking, its cost & damage to car.

    Go into town, pay £2.40/3.20 parking, go buy a few bits come back to car which has had £500+ of damage due to not enough room to get in/out of cars without bashing others.

    I park in Tesco & now ALWAYS take up 2 spaces or family bay, again to avoid damage to car

  • Comment number 393.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Help should be given to groups of local independent traders (butchers, grocers etc.) to form a consortium and rent major units for themselves.

    Instead of a giant brightly-lit space filled with aisles, we could shop at a mini-street market of permanent stalls for the principal traders plus temporary stalls for retailers selling niche products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    'It begins with a blessing and ends with a curse-making life easy by making it worse.'
    Kevin Ayers

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    We have three tesco within 5 miles of each other a tesco express just been given planning!! They need competition,their fuel expensive compared to supermarkets. Planning refused Asda or Morrisons, vey suspicious. Instead they are building 450 unwanted houses for short term enployment probable flooding will occur, it has in many other places here. I try to shop locally but parking cost wont help

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    He's not a very smart man. He's just angered plenty of people around the country with such an arrogant statement.
    What he and many others fail to grasp is that large chains funnel money out of local economies on a massive scale. This is what has led to the decimation of economic structure across the country. Small businesses stay local, large chains suck all profit out and pay a pittance back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Remember when they were selling Lieb in expensive bottles of Sancerre and they got away with that one,blaming some one else.
    They are so dodgy ,Its a shame the public keep supporting their greed and a shame other local shops are not on a fair playing level to complete .
    At least the small shops sell quality stuff and know what they are talking about and you get the after service , not like Tesco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    @352 & 10, You're right. The convenience of finding 'everything you need' in one location is irresistible. It may be progress but it comes at a price. Without producers and consumers being in touch with each other on the ground, we'll never know for sure what's in our food and whether or not we're being ripped off. We'll need greater controls and measures to maintain trust, pushing prices back up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    Did he choose 'another one bites the dust' as one if his disc selections?

  • Comment number 384.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    361. twitwithnoname - What? Why would the Govt want to push prices up? Is inflation good in your eyes? Blimey, ever left your marxist bedroom? Europeans (I think you mean mainland Euros) have the advantage of highly subsidised farming based on small farms - ours are big & efficient & don't get that benefit. So their food is cheaper locally. They also place more importance on fresh food. Wake up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    In a lot of cases, supermarkets are not cheaper but are more convenient.They are interested in domination and not in competition as they often claim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    'Medieval' seems a more appropriate name for mixing meat sources, and saying it is beef! Also, buying from small shops means you don't buy the (seductive, wasteful) extra items you get in a supermarket, and you can buy the amount you want, NOT the package size they want to sell you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Councils need to rethink how they generate revenue when small shops cant cover their rent and rates costs. Turn shops into houses, bring more people to live in towns, this supports small businesses,provide free parking, fund by taxing internet trade at a higher rate maybe 25% vat rather than 20% for buying on line. Dont blame the supermarkets blame the councils and government for a lack of ideas


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