Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Game Changer.

Morrison’s debuted their “Fresh Format” store refurbishment in the Erith branch on Tuesday morning.  I took the photo above later in the afternoon, after getting home from work. I approached a group of senior management types near the main store entrance, and asked permission to take photographs - I addressed the bloke who, by the body language of his colleagues, was the most senior of the group when a junior (I think a graduate management trainee) looked at me and said “You’re that Arthur Pewty bloke aren’t you?". I confirmed I was, and the trainee explained to the huddle of senior brass about the Maggot Sandwich. I then asked if I could take some photos, and they enthusiastically agreed. I later discovered that the person I initially questioned was Morrison's Director of Group Retail, Mark Harrison. I shot home to collect my Nikon D300 camera and returned to take the photos – you can see the entire collection on my Flickr account here. My impressions of the redesign? Wow! In my opinion they have a game changer on their hands. I would imagine that their intention was to “out Waitrose, Waitrose” and in this I believe in some respects they have succeeded. I work directly opposite the giant Waitrose / John Lewis superstore in Canada Square, Canary Wharf. I use the shop on a regular basis and I really like it, however, to my mind the new look Morrison’s utterly trumps it in respect of the new range of fresh produce, notably fruit and vegetables. Waitrose still wins out in that their range and quality of artisan food is still superior to any other British supermarket chain. As you can see from the photos, Morrison’s have hugely increased their range – there are varieties of mushrooms and radishes for example that I have never seen outside of Borough  Market – a  place of foodie pilgrimage.The down side is that to finance these improvements, the prices of many product lines have markedly increased. After talking to the management, they did let slip that the massive array currently available may be cut back if certain things don’t sell. I can understand this – a classic tactic of “throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks”. They are evidently looking to expand their appeal and geographic “pull” to include more affluent customers from outside of the direct Erith catchment area in a classic piece of up – selling. I sincerely hope that it works for them, as if successful, it could bring customers from outside of the local area to spend money in Erith – and might also help other retailers in the Riverside Shopping Centre if there is any justice. Incidentally I have just discovered that the empty Peacock's clothing store may soon have a new occupant. There is a planning application posted in the window applying for a change of use, from dry goods store to food retail. Who is the applicant? Iceland. We shall wait and see. 

If you travel by car in central London and are registered with the congestion charge system, you potentially have a problem. Confidential data, collected by contractor IBM on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) is being outsourced to a data centre in India, in an attempt to decrease the running costs, and thus increase IBM’s operating profits. Car registration numbers, mobile phone details, credit card details and whether the user is registered disabled are all amongst a plethora of items of a confidential and sensitive nature that are being outsourced.  Daniel Boffey, the policy editor of the Observer, wrote last Sunday that “The government has secretly agreed that the "particularly sensitive" personal data of all 43 million drivers in the UK can be contracted offshore to India in a move that will allow the private firm running London's congestion zone to cut costs and make more money. However the move to relax the rules around the sensitive data, which has not been publicly announced, raises concerns in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics about the increased risk of fraud. It is understood that a risk assessment carried out within IBM has also identified a potential threat to London's reputation should the changes lessen the ability of staff to deal with problems in the congestion zone IT systems. It also warned of the risk to the security of sensitive data. The move also appears to contradict ministers' recent insistence that they would resist any work on government contracts going abroad. The transition allowing staff abroad access to the data is expected to be completed by the 18th May. An internal email sent by IBM's commercial manager earlier this month, and seen by the Observer, says: "Since go live, TfL has directed that we retain within the UK certain support roles with access to data that they considered particularly sensitive... TfL has recently completed a risk assessment with the DVLA and the Department for Transport and has concluded that they no longer require this additional level of control... As a result we have commenced a transition exercise to manage the changes to our support organisation over the next three months." Quite. What this boils down to is that if you are Congestion Charge registered, you have absolutely no way of controlling what happens to your personal information – TfL and IBM are running rough shod over the data protection act, all to make more money. There have already been a number of cases where call centre workers  in India have sold bulk data to marketing firms and fraudsters (sometimes one and the same) to make additional money. Whilst it can happen in the UK, the laws in place to prohibit, and where required, prosecute individuals engaged in this kind of industrial espionage are far tighter and more strictly enforced than in India.

Erith will be in the news on Sunday the 22nd July; the Olympic torch relay will be coming to town; the route starts off at Erith Yacht club, then proceeds down Manor Road (quite why they chose this escapes me; it is not exactly the most visitor friendly or photogenic of locations, home as it is to numerous scrap yards and industrial facilities). The relay then proceeds along James Watt Way, and past McDonald’s; it then heads towards Bexleyheath along Queen’s Road. Personally I have my doubts that the metal torch itself will get much further than Manor Road before some local chav nicks it for scrap. On the event of it safely making it through town, once it reaches Bexleyheath it will be destined for the much more salubrious location of Hall Place (see last weeks’ entry for information about the history of this lovely Grade 1 listed stately home). From a press and television view point this is an ideal location – an ancient great house, beautiful sculpted gardens and a quick route back into London after the event for the journalists – the A2 is very close by. I do recall overhearing a rather surreal conversation between two elderly American tourists as they wandered around the herb garden at Hall Place some years back. The man was saying to the woman ”hey, this is a lovely place; I just wish that they had not built it so close to the freeway”. Quite.

Erith Trades and Social club, which has been closed and boarded up for eighteen months or so, is now looking sorrier than ever; somebody has broken through the chip board covering the windows on the rear of the building, and appears to have caused further damage to the structure. I would guess that it was probably local low – lives looking for scrap metal to steal. From what I understand, the wiring and pipework in the building were stolen before it actually closed indeed I have been told that the metal thefts were one of the contributing factors in the club going bust. I don’t believe there has been much in the way of interest in buying the building. It would seem to need too much restoration, and would only have limited use in its’ current form. I am waiting to see if a demolition notice will appear on it. The only kind of business I can see wanting to use the space would be something like a Pizza Express or other fast food conglomerate, to join the existing KFC and McDonalds in the area. What we certainly do not want or need would be more high density accommodation; the area already has more cramped and poky blocks of flats than it can really handle. I would be interested to know how the population of Erith has grown over the last ten or so years; it would from my own totally unscientific observations appear to have increased by at least 25% in the intervening years, no doubt by attracting people to the relatively cheap accommodation and comparative proximity to central London.

The local area seems to be constantly under siege by fly tippers. One of the favourite dumping grounds seems to be Appold Street, off Manor Road. One sees everything from builder's rubble to old fridges and piles of tyres illegally dumped there. The problem is also very bad in Slade Green, especially on the marshes, where any pollution from fly tipped rubbish could potentially cause problems for the area's status as an area of special scientific interest. There are a number of birds and mammals found nowhere else that on the marshes. You can read more about the situation on the News Shopper website here.

I note that much has been made by the News Shopper of the treatment of the local Blogger and Bexley Council critic who goes by the pseudonym of Olly Cromwell. You can read his blog here. Much detail has been recorded by Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website. What comes through clearly is that Bexley Council would appear to be behaving like a tin pot dictatorship – a clear example is recounted by Malcolm, who I directly quote here:- The old adage, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ doesn’t count for much in Bexley but being subject to legal sanctions after being found innocent appears to be a new trick. The incredibly unjust situation is one that the local blogger who goes by the name Olly Cromwell finds himself in and all because he irked Bexley council by filming their meeting just as Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, said he should. He was critical of a few councillors, as well he might be, and for that they called the police. A charge of harassment was trumped up for which no evidence could be found (the things he was accused of doing were done by others) and he was found not guilty.” You can read more about the undemocratic situation by clicking here. What strikes me is that Olly Cromwell is dogged, possibly to the point of obsession; his blog is foul mouthed and offensive to some - personally I dislike it intensely. He might be said to come across as a bit of an obsessive / eccentric. What he is not is a criminal. He is apparently being targeted by certain members of Bexley Council, who would seem to be attempting to manipulate the law to their own ends. This is an uncomfortable thought. Both Malcolm Knight and Olly Cromwell are demonstrating the right to free speech, as outlined in the Human Rights Act 1998, of which Britain is a signatory. Article 10 of the act states:-

1.      Everyone has the right of freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without inference by public authority (my emphasis) and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2.      The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

I think the next few weeks will be pivotal in the fight to maintain local free speech. As Voltaire famously said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. George Washington said “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”.

This week’s ending video is a bit of a curiosity; it is a trailer for a film that has been panned by the critics upon its’ American release; they slated the wooden acting, clichéd script and thin characterisation in the movie. Consequently It has gone on to become a massive hit with audiences grading it an “A” for satisfaction in opinion polls. What is so different about this war film? Well, it tells the story of an American U.S Navy SEAL special forces team, hunting down a fictional terrorist gang. Nothing new there then; only there is. The SEAL team are played by real, serving U.S Navy SEALs – they fire live ammunition and use real special forces tactics. The movie is supported by the U.S Department of Defense, and has been likened to a Top Gun” for the new millennium” – a recruiting commercial for the U.S military. It opens in the UK next week. The film is called Act of Valor”.  I predict it will do adequately in the UK’s cinemas, but will only really become huge when it is released on DVD. It is an ideal Saturday night beer and popcorn movie (it also means that you can fast forward through the cheesy dialogue to get to the stunning “for real” action sequences – something it shares with Top Gun and a host of other movies for blokes that were so popular in the 1980’s). Watch the trailer below and please feel free to leave a comment. 

1 comment:

  1. Have to say I'm not a fan of Morrison's refit. It's...okay but not a game changer in the supermarket stakes. I miss the old "Market street" idea already...LOL!
    It just seems...bland and the misty fruit & veg cooling system seems like a gimmick to me as does 90% of the new stock their selling. I'm sorry but in these austere times is anyone in the Erith locale going to start buying unusual fruit and veg?
    And by unusual I don't mean in a "That's Life" kind of way but like I noticed they did 4 different types of radishes and fresh Water Chestnuts. Not exactly on my shopping list each week… How long till the new and unusual stuff gets dropped because acres of broccoli or celery is hardly exciting.

    Interesting to see the Government can relax the Data Protection Laws in the name of Financial savings because there's nothing that makes me think of my Data's safety than outsourcing my personal details halfway across the world to India.
    Congratulations Nick and Dave, hats off for your forward pro-active thinking about reducing our current jobs surplus in this country and helping a burgeoning superpower improved their jobs prospects!