Sunday, December 04, 2022


Just every so often I get a story which is a real scoop; I have not had one for quite some time, so in a way it is most welcome, but in a far more important way it is not. I have it on impeccable authority from a senior source in Erith Morrison’s that the supermarket is going to make some radical changes early in the New Year. It has been known for some time that the supermarket – along with many others of the chain – was making a far greater use of self service checkouts. What has only become apparent in the last few days is exactly how far Morrison’s is going down this route. My information source – who I will not identify – is a member of the senior management team - tells me that the Erith store will be removing all but four of the staffed checkouts shortly after Christmas and replacing them all with self service units. The changes will almost certainly involve job losses, as many checkout staff will no longer be required and are unlikely to be deployed elsewhere in the supermarket. My source tells me that the changes have been resisted by the Erith stores senior management team, but it has been imposed by the national company. I am not surprised by this; Morrison’s nowadays is owned by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a US private equity firm, who have in the recent past been accused of saddling the previously family-owned supermarket chain with debt. I have previously written about the somewhat mixed reception to self service supermarket checkouts, and explained my own personal antipathy towards them. I do however appreciate that some shoppers prefer self service checkouts, but it would seem that these are in the minority. It has been demonstrated that the average time to complete a supermarket self service transaction is up to three times as long as one carried out by a staffed till – and that is without allowing for system errors. Secondly, why would you have a dog and bark yourself? Quite often the checkout person adds to the whole retail experience, and can problem solve on the go. Elderly people, or customers with small children can also find self service stressful. On top of this, the supermarkets only introduce self service as they think it will reduce their staffing overheads, as would appear to be the case in Erith Morrison's. This has proved to be a false economy, as although the number of checkout staff is reduced, the number of supervisors and security operatives has to increase – who tend to be paid a higher rate than the checkout staff. This particular matter has caused Wilkinson’s stores nationwide to remove self service checkouts, as they discovered that the self service tills actually cost more by the time all the overhead costs were factored in; they were also finding the incidence of thefts and under age purchasing were on the rise. Back in 2017, a report was published by the Criminology Department of the University of Leicester on self service checkout tills. The report found that installing self-service checkouts raises lost revenue by 122 percent. Some of it is accidental – people forget to scan items, or get confused by instructions; other times shoppers get so frustrated with self-service kiosks that they feel justified in not paying. But the report stated that mostly people shoplift because the technology makes it so easy. Mobile phone scanning technology is just as vulnerable – the study found that at the end of a typical shopping trip, up to ten percent of items had not been scanned, leading to “shrinkage” (loss through wastage or theft) of about 3.9 percent of turnover. Unfortunately the technology makes it very difficult to prove that customers are deliberately stealing. One major retailer admitted they almost never prosecute people. For that reason supermarkets are now introducing tagging systems so un-scanned items trigger alarms. As if this was not enough, Morrison's are facing a number of financial problems, which if not resolved, could see them being taken over by a rival supermarket chain. Morrison's suffered yet another blow as a leading business ratings agency sounded the alarm over its £6 billion debt pile and dwindling profits. The beleaguered Bradford-based grocer, which as previously mentioned is now in private equity hands, has been pushing up prices faster than its rivals, causing it to lose market share, Fitch said. It has faced soaring costs, which Fitch said will lead to a £200 million hit to Morrisons’ profits for the next three years. Fitch downgraded the rating on the grocer’s debt from a ‘speculative’ BB level, to a ‘highly speculative’ B, suggesting a ‘material’ risk of it defaulting. It said: ‘Morrisons lost more market share than its major peers due to larger price increases.’ The downgrade will raise further questions about the role of private equity firms, which rely on huge amounts of debt to fund takeovers, in the UK grocery market. Since the £7 billion takeover, spearheaded by ex-Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy, the grocer has seen its market share tumble and lost its coveted spot in the ‘Big Four’ of UK supermarkets to discounter Aldi. It now risks being overtaken by Aldi’s German discount rival Lidl, which analysts expect to happen in as little as 18 months. Current Morrison's boss David Potts has come under pressure to revive the ailing supermarket chain. Industry experts have branded the takeover by private equity ‘at best a distraction, and at worst a bit of a disaster’. Whilst I was writing this article, I received a completely unsolicited message from Richard, the author of the excellent Thamesmead Grump Blog. Richard writes:- "As you regularly comment on the dreaded self-service tills in supermarkets, I thought I would tell you a tale of what happened to me recently. I had stopped off at my local Morrison's to get a bottle of wine for the Memsahib. As is usual for this establishment, there was only one attended till open and it had a queue half the length of the shop in front of it. With no other option available I decided to use one of the self-service ones instead. Of course, you can't just buy a bottle of wine at a self-service till because someone has to come a confirm that you are not under 25 first before you are allowed to pay. I waited for a member of staff to arrive, but waited in vain. Another customer was trying to buy his bottle of wine at the next till and we both stood there, and stood there, and stood there. What happened next probably wouldn't have happened if I had not arrived at the supermarket via the local pub where I had imbibed a number of pints and was feeling less inhibited than is usually the case. Seeing that I wasn't going to be attended to any time soon and with no staff member even in sight, I decided that the best way to attract someone's attention was to make as though I was going to leave without paying; that would make someone notice, surely. Collecting my goods from the till and putting them into my bag, I started to make my escape. With a large show of exactly what I was doing; waving my bag of ill-gotten goods and announcing in a loud voice that I hadn't paid for them, I headed for the exit; I even tried to attract the attention of the security guard who totally ignored me. So there I was, striding down the road with a free bottle of wine and a packet of doughnuts (I forgot to mention the doughnuts) thinking 'if I'd realised how easy this shoplifting lark was, I would made it my first career choice'. The amount of money supermarkets are losing (I think they call it shrinkage) must be staggering. I hadn't exactly sneaked out with the stuff under my jumper; short of blowing a trumpet and waving a sign, I don't think there was much more I could have done to alert the staff to what I was doing. The problem was, there weren't any staff; none at all, other that the aforementioned security guard who was clearly busy doing something else. As it was, all I had left with was one bottle of wine (and the doughnuts, of course), but I'm sure I would have got away with it if I had left with a large trolley full of high value items. Somewhere, there must be a team of senior managers who regularly meet and agree that the amount of money they lose in the theft of their stock doesn't amount to what they would have to pay in wages to hire enough staff. I think they need to do their sums again. I did go back and pay for the stuff; in case you were wondering." Supermarkets such as Morrison’s in Erith have now expanded the number of self – service checkouts so that now half of all tills are of this type, and as mentioned earlier, this is about to drastically increase. Finding open, traditionally staffed checkouts are becoming a challenge to locate. I have always wondered why you have to pay the same price for an item when it is purchased via a self – service till when compared to a traditional one – after all, you are doing work on behalf of the supermarket, and surely this should be reflected in a cheaper cost? If I wanted to operate a till, I would get a job at Morrison's, though if their financial and business woes continue, they may well be taken over by a rival. Comments and feedback to me at the usual email address:-

The photo above - click on it to see a larger version - shows the view looking Eastwards towards Erith Town Centre along West Street. From the vehicles in the shot, and the state of construction of the tower block on the horizon, I would hazard a guess that the photo was taken in around 1970.

Last week the Guardian published a fascinating and insightful history of Thamesmead from its late 1960's  inception through to the present day - I would highly recommend that you read it by clicking here

Millions of British people have no idea what their home telephone number is, according to new research. Sixty per cent of the nation only have a landline because they need it for their broadband connection. If the phone does ring, a third of people assume it’s an automated or sales call, and 22 per cent never answer it . Only one in five knows their landline number, according to a recent survey of 2,000 UK adults. Almost four in ten use their home phone once a month or less, with six in 10 admitting they only pay for a landline just to access the internet. Six in 10 say they wish they could de-clutter their homes by getting rid of their landline completely, a 20 per cent increase from a study conducted in 2019. A fifth of survey respondents reckoned their home will be landline-free within two years, if not sooner. Due to the rise of social media and mobile phones, over half of the nation consider the landline a ‘redundant’ piece of technology, rising to seven in 10 among 18-24 year olds. Incredibly, of the respondents who had children aged 16 and under, 14 per cent reported that they had children that have no idea what a landline is.  A third of respondents said that they use their landline for keeping in touch with grandparents or older relatives. Almost half say they give out their home number to sales people and companies, to stop them getting their mobile details. Thirty-six percent of Brits only use their home phone once a month or less often, and one in ten homes has already made the jump to going landline-free. The report also says that a fifth of British households have at least one old landline handset sitting unused in the back of a cupboard.

The traditional annual visit of Father Christmas to the local area, courtesy of Erith Rotary Club is almost upon us. The club describe the event thus:- "For 90 years, the Rotary Club of Erith has been spreading joy throughout the community at Christmas. This wonderful tradition started as long ago as 1932 where Rotarians raised funds to provide Christmas Hampers for people in the local community. As time moved on, they and their family members took to the streets, singing carols accompanied simply by a harmonium on a barrow that was pulled from place to place. From these humble beginnings, just look where we are now! We have our wonderful sleigh which lights up not only the streets as it moves along them but also the faces of generations for whom Christmas simply would not be the same without it! What's more, we have even persuaded Santa to join us! What hasn't changed over those long years, is the determination of our club to support the people of our local area in any way we can. Thanks to the generosity of our local community, we have been able to support so many wonderful organisations - our Special Schools, Europa Gym Special Needs Groups, Smerdon Resource Centre, Bexley Women's Aid, Bexley Deaf Centre, Charlton Upbeats and our local food bank. With your help, we can do so much more!" Click on any of the images above to see a larger version. For more information about Erith Rotary Club, please click here

As I have previously written, Police are concerned about a group of criminal pickpockets operating in and around Crayford. The Police have published the following advice:- "How to spot a pickpocket - The observers - These include people loitering in public places who appear to be checking out passers-by, paying particular interest to their handbags, shopping bags and where they might place their wallet or purse. For example, be aware of individuals who appear to be focusing their attention on the waist area of others. This may be an indication of criminal intent and probable theft. But do bear in mind the fact that some people are naturally shy and do avoid eye contact. Always follow your instincts. The opportunists - Pickpockets also operate in shops and department stores, where people are more likely to be standing still, distracted and so paying less attention to their belongings, making them an easier target. Be more aware of your surroundings in busy shops and shopping centres because they’re ideal places for pickpockets, as it’s easier for them to brush past people, take items and blend into the crowd. Team tactics - Pickpockets don’t always operate alone, they may work in teams to distract the target while someone unseen removes the items and blends back into the crowd. Another member might step in as an enforcer in the event of an altercation. Crowding in - Thieves vary their tactics based on the location and the density of the crowd. One tactic is where a group of them push up against a victim in a crowded shop or street then quickly reach into the victim’s pocket and steal their wallet, phone or purse. Dirty tricks - Remember, pickpockets are very skilled at what they do. They know all the tricks and are extremely light-fingered with most of their thefts only taking a second or two. One of their tactics is ‘hugger mugging’ where a thief will appear to be over-friendly for no particular reason and hug you while pick pocketing you. The point of distraction - Pickpocket teams are adept at creating distractions. This could be anything from a game to a loud shout, all designed to avert your attention while an unseen accomplice steals your valuables. So do try not to be easily distracted. Remember, having a zipped bag doesn’t mean you’re totally safe. Thieves have been known to walk behind victims while slowly unzipping bags. Yes, they can be that bold. So, never underestimate a pickpocket".

Back in October I published a story about the changing schedules for Southeastern Trains, and how direct trains to Charing Cross on the Dartford via Greenwich to London line were being scrapped. On Thursday of last week I received the following press release from the local MP:- "Government admits involvement in Southeastern train cuts following pressure from Abena Oppong-Asare MP. Responding to written questions submitted by Erith and Thamesmead MP, Abena Oppong-Asare, the Government has admitted they gave Southeastern permission to proceed with service cuts without consulting the public. After months of denial, the Department for Transport responded to a written question Ms Oppong-Asare MP submitted on 7th November 2022, revealing they gave Southeastern an exemption from the requirement to consult in August this year. This allowed Southeastern to plan train service cuts without consulting the public. Ms Oppong-Asare then asked the Department how many rail operators had been given exemptions from consultation rules in 2020, 2021, and 2022. She also asked what process the Department follows when decided to give exemptions and why they decided to award one to Southeastern. The Department for Transport responded late to these questions and did not provide full answers. They did admit that only one rail operator had requested an exemption – Southeastern Railway. Last Thursday (24th November), Ms Oppong-Asare MP challenged the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt MP, on this. In a previous exchange, Ms Mordaunt had said “it is vital that passengers are consulted on any changes to services, whether timetabling or other changes”. Yesterday, Ms Mordaunt promised to pass on Ms Oppong-Asare MP’s concerns to the Department for Transport. Ms Oppong-Asare MP is meeting this week with the Transport Minister, Huw Merriman MP. She hopes to also speak with Southeastern Chief Executive, Steve White, who she will be urging to cancel the cuts. The cuts will result in no direct line to Charing Cross or Waterloo from Abbey Wood, Belvedere, or Erith stations, a reduction in the frequency of trains to London Bridge, and reduced services for residents who use Barnehurst, Bexleyheath, Plumstead, and Slade Green stations in neighbouring constituencies. Ms Oppong-Asare has encouraged worried constituents to sign up to updates on her campaign against the cuts on her website, where they can find more information about her work. Constituents can also share their views on the cuts and bring any transport concerns they have to her attention. Abena Oppong-Asare MP said: “I am supporting residents who are calling for Southeastern to reverse the proposed cuts in services. Timetables need to work for constituents. There has been a lack of consultation, cooperation, and engagement from Southeastern. Working with stakeholders and constituents, we will continue to fight for a reliable and well organised timetable that provides opportunities for all in Erith and Thamesmead and the South East.” What do you think? Email me at

The end video this week is a short promotional film on the Quarry housing development, located in Fraser Road - for once the video is pretty accurate and does not make any outrageous claims. Give it a watch and see what you think.