Supermarket wars


by Sue Varley

Earlier this week, Tesco lost the latest round in its fight to keep Asda from opening a supermarket in Tain.  

Asda were granted outline planning permission for a store in the town at a planning meeting held at the Royal Hotel in Tain last April.  The 11 councillors backed the application unanimously, and there is overwhelming support for an Asda supermarket amongst the local people.

Tesco based their appeal to the Court of Session in Edinburgh on a comment from one member of the council who was heard to say that there are “too many Tescos in the Highlands”, claiming that the Council’s decision was based on a desire to undermine Tesco.  Tesco’s call for a judicial review of April’s planning decision was rejected by judge Lord Malcolm, who said that there was a formidable case in its favour.  Highland Council are now awaiting a detailed planning application from Asda.

Tesco, themselves having opened a store in Tain in December 2010, appear desperate to prevent any competition to their growing dominance of retail in the Highlands.

Inverness is known as ‘Tesco Town’ because over half of all money spent on groceries is spent in one of Tesco’s three stores in the Highland capital.  Not content with this level of dominance, they are trying to open a fourth store in the town, despite it being opposed by an overwhelming majority of local residents.

Tesco is also well known for selling petrol at a higher price in Inverness than in Elgin, 35 miles away, where they do not enjoy such a high level of market share.

When Tesco opened its superstore and petrol station in Dingwall, it hired a mobile van advertising the price of its petrol.  This van was to be seen in and around Dingwall, but was particularly visible parked for extended periods of time within yards of the Conon Bridge filling station, which closed along with one of Dingwall’s two other filling stations, shortly after the new Tesco opened.

If Tesco can afford to indulge in these spoiler tactics against legitimate competition from other supermarket chains, and outright destruction of established small local businesses, they can well afford the extra business rates proposed by the Finance Minister.

Meanwhile the Unionist opposition parties in the Scottish parliament’s local government committee have voted against the proposed “supermarket tax” contained in John Swinney’s budget.  This levy would raise £30 million towards mitigating the £1.3 billion Westminster government imposed cuts to the Scottish block grant.  Their justification? – the tax threatens jobs in the retail sector.

Labour’s stance on the modest levy is perplexing when one recalls their reason for opposing minimum price for alcohol – that it would enhance supermarket profits.  This latest kneejerk opposition to a sensible SNP proposal has put Labour in the bizarre position of opposing a tax on big business whilst simultaneously advocating a rise in council tax.

Lib Dem finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis, who lodged a parliamentary motion to annul the measure, listed on his website “more support for local retailers struggling against the big supermarkets” as one of his top 11 priorities for the Scottish Parliament.  Is it any wonder voters are now deserting Tavish Scott’s party in their droves?

If the Unionist opposition MSPs are determined to thwart progressive Scottish government legislation, its about time they came up with better excuses.