The Observer last Sunday carried a fascinating interview with Tesco boss Philip Clark. In it Clarke tells interviewer Jay Rayner that, as the result of the horsemeat scandal in January and February 2013, ‘it became clear that people thought Tesco was big and Tesco was bad.’ To salvage the company’s reputation Clark wants to do something about British suppliers. ‘We’ve got to produce more food at home,’ he says, ‘and we’ve got to make more and better deals with producers.’
Maybe I’m missing something here, but does this not seem to you a glaring non sequitur? ‘Sorry about the horsemeat. I’ll give farmers a better deal.’ That’s like saying, ‘I feel bad about cheating on my wife. Let me give my employees an immediate pay-rise!’
Now, there is no question that suppliers get a raw deal in 21st century Britain, with supermarkets wielding their power (i.e. their access to mass markets) to drive down the prices primary producers charge. And there is no question that bold action and brave leadership is required to tackle this injustice.
But rather than Clarke taking over from Sir Terry Leahy in 2011 and asking himself how he could use his newfound position for good, instead of having the courage to lead, Clarke redefines the meaning of ‘reactive’. It takes a scandal as damaging as the horsemeat one, a crack unit of PR advisers and new polls showing the public actually care about the fate of farmers to spur him into action. And thus one holds out little hope about his determination to deliver.