Thursday, September 30, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Rose Hill Spar owner speaks out

The owner of the Spar shop in Marple, Mel, has commented exclusively on this blog about the intense competition his family have faced from the Premier shop opening next door. He has responded to comments on his smoking, his treatment of kids and the vicious price cutting by his competitors. More than anything though he has thanked his loyal customers saying his future lies in the hands of the people of Marple.

NB: MT quoted below is not me.

The original blog, with comments, is here.

His comment is here:

As the owner of the Spar store in question, can I first say a huge THANK YOU for your overwhelming support. The last few months has been the most stressful period we have ever been through but your kind comments and words of encouragement have kept us going.

I have been monitoring blogs, forums and people kindly setting up support groups, but I shall limit my response to the comments raised on this blog. I accept my smoking may offend, and as my wife is a non smoker I have always done it outside. Point taken. Feelings have been running quite high with next door trying to accost passing customers, offering to undercut our prices. Me being outside seemed to put a stop to it the outburst that MT witnessed was a result of them taunting and laughing at my wife. My sincere apologies.

As to the outstanding fare,our shop is very small and while we try our best to cater to everybody's needs, space does not allow. Can I take the opportunity to thank you for overlooking our shortcomings and offering your support and rest assured we will do better.

I have come across a couple of remarks about us selling wine next to Wine Rack and you're right we never intended to do so. The decision to do so was only taken when we knew that First Quench (the parent company for Wine Rack, Threshers and The Local) was heading for failure and the store closure was imminent.

The decision to limit the number of kids into the store was only taken after huge losses through theft, the majority of the kids are great and a credit to their parents. I accept I spend a lot of time outside but it's not to intimidate. I have not only my family, my home and my business to look after but also the jobs of five local people to protect. I need to know what next door are selling, to who and why, to see if we can adapt to survive, this we can only do with the continued support from the local community. As to it being cheaper, you can easily sell at a loss for as long as it takes when you have fifteen other stores to spread the losses, which we can't do. As you can see our fate is in your hands. 

Thank you one and all. 

Kind Regards Mel

An audience with Rod Aldridge

I hosted an event this week at the Digital World Centre opposite the Lowry in Salford Quays. I interviewed Rod Aldridge on stage, a very intriguing character. There's a lot of underlying anger with him, he's perfectly pleasant and warm and funny and I certainly think we had a decent rapport. But his missionary zeal for doing things for young people through his foundation runs deep with him; he says he's "angry" about how he came so close to wasting his life. We talked for a good hour, and took some excellent questions - we covered a fair amount of ground; the Labour party, the Conservatives, his background, Capita, entrepreneurship, public service reforms, the civil service, dance, the arts, the BBC, education and social breakdown. But through it all is a strong sense of purpose. He's a straight up bloke who's done well for himself, but wants to put something back on his terms.

I'll post a link on here when I write it up a bit more in a wider piece I'm putting together on what this "big society" might look like. Is is it a gimmick, or the radical alternative to bloated state?

In the meantime, there's some good things about him here.

Munich, a very smart city

Munich was a very impressive city. Very prosperous, very courteous people. But very busy in the city centre on Saturday evening. I'm too old to queue to get in somewhere for a drink, so much as the Hofbrahaus was a good place to spend time drinking quality ale, that was a pain.

The occasion? Dom Coupes (pictured) had his birthday bash and we visited the celebratory festival of Northern Europe's premier cultural binding pastime - Oktoberfest. Highly recommended.  I even liked the food.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That musical journey

I'm still chipping away at my top 1000 songs, dropping odd bits of dross, adding new gems. The latest burst of brilliance, courtesy of The Word, is CW Stoneking, and a gorgeous rendition of an old calypso track Brave Son of America.

Bandwagon sectors and Manchester's creative ambition

Pumped with excitement from a few different media events about the ambition of Manchester's creative sector, I did a talk to a networking event this morning.organised by the delightful team at Barnardos.

There's plenty of competition for Manchester; places purporting to be great centres of creativity. Like these:

"With its 950,000 inhabitants, the area boasts a high standard of living, a specialised and markedly international production system, qualified human resources and a close-nit and vibrant creative community."

That’s Bologna.

"The partial transformation of the harbor into a modern business and residential district is an important urban planning project to position the city as a center for the creative industries, including advertising, art and media, in Europe."

That’s Dusseldorf.

"Creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors of our regional economy.  Our council works with our partners on a project called Creativity Works which offers advice, support, information and networking opportunities.  There are annual  Creativity Works awards raising the profile of this valuable economic sector."

That’s Blackburn.

And then there's London. I couldn't help myself, but I ended with this again:

"In the North West it rains and it rains. And yet we managed to produce the industrial revolution, trade union movement, the Communist Manifesto and even the computer. And Joy Division, Oasis, M People, The Smiths, Elbow and the Happy Mondays. Down south, where the sun never sets, you took all our money and what did you produce? Chas and Dave."

Tony Wilson. Gone, but never forgotten.

What have I been up to this week

Don't take my word for it, but our Business of Media Summit was brilliant this week.

Will Bentley, here, has produced an excellent summary. So has Nigel Hughes, here. And then there's the Twitter stream, here.

Spooks is back, Spooks is ace

We really enjoyed the new series of Spooks this week. Sir Harry Pearce, as ever, was the star of the show. His wise counsel, his depths of self doubt, his love for Ruth and his razor sharp judgement completely overshadowed some real shortcomings.

Let's deal with these first. The new girl was wooden, the non-speaking extras made the tense scenes with the Somali terror cell seem calm. The tight shots on the tanker seemed to highlight the constraints of the budget - they never even pretended they were at sea. And the rubbish CGI of the submarines going up the Thames were far inferior to what my 8 year old can create on his Nintendo DS.

But it's still ace. So much action. Contemporary politics, undercurrents of mystery, and how can you fault a programme with a line like this. Asked if an interruption to the internet in the South of England was a price worth paying for interrupting the terrorists Sir Harry said this: "So the country will have to struggle on without pornography and Minesweeper for a couple of hours. Do it."

Or this:

"This is my ‘I want some good news’ face."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oi ref!

So, yesterday I watched Rovers get a goal that wasn't because that horrible scrote El Hadji Diouf deliberately cheated. Fulham get away with a handball and Rovers concede a free kick the players were still whining about as Clint Dempsey rose to equalise. Seen again from several angles on Match of the Day (last again, I notice), the referee is dismissed as an idiot.

Earlier I watched the eldest son in an Under 12s match. The referee was a 15-year old lad, brightly turned out in his new kit. He was being monitored by one of the local veteran refs from these parts and did well. He will have missed a couple of things, he will have had an obscured view of marginal offside decisions - he doesn't have linesmen for these, just a Dad spotting throw ins - but he did well. Blissfully, the morning went without rancour, but in the future it will. He's one of 40 lads coming through the system, of which most will give it up within two years because of abuse from parents and gobby managers and, depressingly, players. Despite the Respect campaign, and the tabloid press seeming to support initiatives like Ray Winstone's excellent video, the problem is endemic.

The reason lies on the Match of the Day sofa and in the manager's interview. It all feeds a terrible sense of entitlement to appeal each decision a referee makes. So, while I saw a fantastic game in the morning, full of all the drama and endeavour which makes football a beautiful game, by the end of the day the ugliness comes crawling through.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Britain's Got the Pope Factor On Ice

I've been hovering over the keyboard intending to glumly reflect on the Pope's visit to Britain. I did fear the worst, a lot of sniping, defeatism from Catholics and spiteful triumphalism from the Dawkins mob, not that I care. There's also been a wrong headed stubborn trench mentality - like this - which misjudges the deep anger over the cover-up of priestly abuse.

But listening to what the Pope has to say about Britain, tolerance, modern Christianity, reason and aspiration, rather than what the circus has to interpret, is very refreshing. That's all I have to say.

On inspirational leaders

I've been honoured to spend time this week with some towering figures in British life, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Terry Leahy.

The Tesco boss was speaking at a finance conference in Liverpool this morning, which I chaired. Fergie was the guest at the office opening of Morson's new headquarters in Salford, organised by my good friend Paul Horrocks. There were only business press invited and we kept a respectful distance. I did see the FT man Andy Bounds hovering around him, but that was to get him to sign his son's birthday card. Anyway, the story is here.

I did sit next to Leahy though and introduce his speech. I can't claim that he's my new best mate or anything, in fact I suspect he thought I was a chippy pain in the arse. I asked him, in front of 350 people, about the Everton stadium, which he seemed a bit bored by. He also wasn't that enamoured by one of the other people on the panel talking too much and made a swift exit at the end of the session.

So, one learns from such experiences. One also cannot fail to be impressed by Leahy's observations. Irrespective of his dry delivery, he's inspirational. Despite his position as boss of an all conquering retail brand, he seems empathetic to the issues facing fast growing companies of much smaller size. It might seem obvious, but he says if you want to succeed in business, then you set out to be the best, and if you do, then you get big. That brings its own challenges.

Both men have been successful in their own walk of life. People hang on their every word, what they say matters. What they feel matters too. The good news from Leahy is the recovery seems real. He'd know.

Neither try too hard to play it for laughs either. They don't need to. A mild anecdote brings the house down. Leahy's was that his speech would be like the Everton game v Man United - all the best bits will be at the end.

My biggest laugh of the day came after I introduced the very nice man from the Bank of England, John Young. Insider named him the 100th most powerful man in the North West, which I mentioned. He said he ought to point out that the person at 99 is in fact dead. He is, it's him.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Danger: genius at work

I was handed the dubious honour of introducing Rory Sutherland at a dinner in Manchester tonight to relaunch the MPA (the Manchester Publicity Association). I have to say, the man is a force of nature, a true genius of his field. I know all this because I read his Wikiman column in the Spectator. But tonight I saw him as one of the best business speakers I've ever seen. His energy, wit and ideas are mesmerising enough, but ability to weave a thread of a theory for an hour was very impressive indeed. However, he spoke for an hour, before dinner, and the technology broke. Twice. It was tough to keep the audience through that, but he did it.

One of the ideas he shared was framing. How different products sell in the context. Stick a Rolls Royce in a car showroom and it's a tough product to shift. Put it alongside Lear Jets and yachts at a luxury goods fare and it will.

Rather like a speech from a creative advertising man. At a conference, just before lunch, after a gentle build up - I'd pay to see that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Smash the state

With the TUC in Manchester calling for action, and the BBC siezing on every outpouring of protest, there's very little sensible debate in the news about what the alternative is, or whether this is actually a good idea irrespective of the need to cut the deficit. It called to mind a comment by Ferdinand Mount at a Conservative Party conference fringe debate on the need for public sector cuts: never let a good crisis go to waste. Julian Glover in the Guardian today makes a good point: The coalition government has been accused of trying to reduce the state, and that is good. They should just say so. Everything I see and hear tells me the public are up for this and ready to take the medicine required.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shopping in Marple - an update

There's nothing like competition to get trade moving. I mentioned here that two virtually identical shops were now trading next to one another, pictured, just opposite Rose Hill train station in Marple. A Spar, which has been here a while, and a Premier convenience store which opened in August.

On the face of it the opening of such direct competition couldn't have come at a worse time for the family that opened the Spar. For the last 6 months Marple has been locked down in the evenings for essential work on the main road in and out, thus cutting off passing trade. A bigger store, offering half price newspapers, free energy drinks and incredible discounts on milk and bread looks formidable.

We've already established that this is not a planning issue, it's a free market one. The winner takes all and the fight is very much on.

Well, I've never seen Spar the shop as busy as it is now. There seems to be a groundswell of loyalty, with punters declaring loudly and proudly they are boycotting the Raja Brothers store. The Spar owners also go out of their way to thank people for their custom, even standing outside having a cigarette, making a few punters unlikely to then swerve into the competition.

The Spar have also got the support of a Facebook page, here, and the balance of the positive sentiment on the Marple website here.

I'm less impressed with the tactics of the Premier store. The tacky dayglo handwritten posters offer schoolkids a "free energy drink" with lunch and sweets. That's not right. In fact it's horribly wrong on every level. They even make a claim that they're doing their half price paper offer for "customers" and "not profit".

There's a third effect that this stand off is having. More than a few people I know have avoided both.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

City v Rovers - great day

Me and the youngest lad went to Man City v Rovers today. We were with a few other media people as guests of City's corporate hospitality team. We had to sit on our hands when Niko Kalinic took the lead for Rovers in the first half. We also had to be restrained at the final whistle when we celebrated a point won.

Sometimes there is joy to be had from a decent defensive performance, especially after two defenders go off injured. But some solid goalkeeping and, at times, some heroics and hardy jostling in the midfield from Phil Jones and MGP saw us through.

I still think City can win the title, but they will need to be more ruthless and direct. I thought Adam Johnson was going to rip us apart, but he didn't, thankfully. SWP was clueless. But who knows who they'll buy, or who the best eleven is. What I do sense is they missed a Bellamy today. And Roque Santa Cruz must be very out of favour if Jo keeps him out of a game. He was rubbish.

But there's only one story for Match of the Day tonight: Dirty negative Rovers thwart luckless City. Don't believe a word of it.

Keyboard warriors

I have a thing about messageboard etiquette and the posting of anonymous comments.

Earlier this week Simon Binns of ManCon got the owner of the Britannia Hotel to speak about the threat of a compulsory purchase order on the Old Fire Station, a building that could be a civic treasure, but is in a shocking state. Owner Alex Langham has his say, Manchester City Council reply. Context is provided, but comment is not. It's called reporting.

The story is here.

In the comments underneath there's one from Anonymous, as follows:

"Hardly the most illuminating of interviews. Has someone cut mancon's claws? Where's the demands for an explanation of how this company has allowed a building like this to rot for 25 YEARS!!! pardon the shouting, but come on - this reads like Trevor macdonald interviewing the queen. I hope you asked "is there anything else mr langsam would like to add?". Brittannia's actions have been shameful and the sooner this landmark site is taken off them the better."

Is it just me, but doesn't this display in one paragraph the delicious irony of an anonymous poster lecturing an experienced journalist on matters of courage? And doesn't it also show the value of honest balanced enquiry as opposed to shrill demanding outrage. Afterall, who got Langsham to speak and raise the issue again? Exactly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rovers takeover latest - Ali comes out fighting

Following the allegations in the Radio Five Investigates programme on Sunday Mr Ahsan Ali Syed has responded with a statement.

The full text is here on the Lancashire Telegraph site, no doubt with the usual mindless babble in the comments box underneath.

As I've gone on record in expressing my doubts, here, and comparing him to Michael Knighton, here, it's only fair to include the relevant points stand as a reply here too.

So, in response to allegations made on the BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates broadcast on 5 September 2010, Western Gulf Advisory (WGA) dealt with the flat, the unpaid council tax and where he comes from in India. I always thought this was tittle tattle. As for whether he studied at the London School of Economics, well, he doesn't address that point.

The statement does address the probity of WGA and the analysis on the programme of the annual report:

"The conclusions drawn in the programme regarding WGA B.S.C (Bahraini Shareholding Company)’s accounts are false and misleading and have been independently audited by BDO. Like any similar financial institution, WGA does not need to keep significant cash positions as it does not have large liabilities or operating expenses. Furthermore WGA’s Bahraini business is a separate entity to its European businesses, which are responsible for executing all of its investments."

Introducing BDO into the mix is important and ups the ante for me. I still think 7 days is a very short period to audit a business of such size and complexity, but then I'm not as familiar with local audit law.

The statement ends with a fairly sturdy defence and a restatement of intent.

"WGA is a well capitalised business and has the sum of $850 million available in liquid assets for investment purposes. As previously stated, WGA remains committed to expanding its investment activities in the UK.

"Any attempt to suggest that Mr Ali has a questionable track record in business and is therefore unsuitable to take over Blackburn Rovers is a false and damaging allegation.”

Wow. That's fighting talk. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough, as they used to say on the Blackburn End.

But none of this should ever have got to this stage. It has created a circus around our football club. Again, in my experience deals are done in private and major statements are not bandied around for public dissection before a deal is done. The same goes for sheep stations in Australia and property companies in Ireland. Certainly the long list of deals that WGA lists on its website were conducted well below any radar I have access to. Having had a taste of the British press, maybe Mr Ali wishes he'd kept this one low key too.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

That Tony Blair book

The Tony Blair book A Journey is fascinating. Rachel has grabbed it first and is rattling through it. I keep dipping into the index and randomly looking at it. I can't believe how he's approached it, writing in a laid back, "gosh, look at me" style.

There's a good review, or mention, from Norman Geras here. And a reference to the fact that it's selling very well, here, on Harry's Place.

The Indian Michael Knighton stalks Rovers

I just don't feel good about the proposed takeover of Blackburn Rovers by Ahsan Ali Syed.

I make the comparison with Michael Knighton here.

And we cast a sceptical eye during the Blackburn Rovers unofficial podcast here.

Tonight's BBC Radio Five Live Investigates has done a good job of picking through the evidence. I'm sure Rovers fans will be listening in a state of anger and confusion.

Here's what concerns me now: not that there is truth in the allegations and that the deal can't go through. I don't like the cut of his gib so far; it's all wrong. My instincts tell me this is doomed. But if he's successful and loaded, I still don't see a good outcome. If he's successful and isn't as wealthy as he makes out, then the humiliation will be complete.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tony Blair knew

I'm looking forward to reading Tony Blair's book which I bought today, and watching the Andrew Marr interview this evening.

Here's where I was the day he left office.

Now, I knew Gordon Brown would be a terrible prime minister and I'm just a bloke from Marple who watches the news. But so, it appears, did Blair. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I remember his clunking fist speech at David Cameron and thought at the time: "nah".

But doesn't it show a lack of leadership that he didn't try to stop Brown?

Support your local teams

This Saturday has been designated Non-League Day.


We've already embraced this with visits to Woodley Sports and Droylsden this season, making them my 128th and 129th grounds on which I've watched football. I'm going to try and take in matches at Stalybridge Celtic, Curzon Ashton, Glossop North End and Salford City in the next few months.

The organisers get it bang on when they say: "There is a richness and depth to the non-league game that should be experienced while we have the chance, and with more and more clubs facing hardship or folding every season, there has never been a better opportunity to "adopt" a second team."

Do your bit for semi-pro and grass roots football, and get out and support your local team. Who knows, you may even enjoy the experience enough to return again...

There's a link to a very helpful website on the day here.