Monday, August 22, 2005

Conflict of interest row erupts over Tesco stores expansion

The expansion of Tesco superstores into smaller towns across the UK is encountering cross-party political opposition following allegations of possible irregularities in the planning process.

Local opponents of new supermarkets have written to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RPTI), a professional body for planners, with allegations of three instances in Scotland and North England of a potential conflict of interest.

The complaints centre on two consultancy firms, GVA Grimley and England & Lyle, that have produced reports on the need for a supermarket for the local authority granting planning permission, while also acting on behalf of Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket group, with some 30% of the retail market.

Both firms deny any conflict of interest, and GVA Grimley is taking legal advice on the allegations. The firms say they have acted for Tesco but in different parts of the country than those the subject of current planning applications.

Paul Rounce, of GVA Grimley in Edinburgh, said the firm worked for “all manner of clients including a number of local authorities. We will see what our lawyers have to say about it. But we do this work all the time and have never come across a case where an individual has alleged something like this.”

John England, a partner in Darlington-based England & Lyle, added: “It’s in the nature of consultancy work that occasionally you find that you’re working for one client and then in a different area, let’s say the council, it may well be that same client, say Tesco, is closely involved. But there’s no conflict from a professional point of view because the work is totally different.”

However, politicians of all parties are now demanding greater scrutiny of the planning process, particularly in Berwick, Castle Douglas and Crieff, where complaints have been made over stores planned by Tesco.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have raised the Berwick case with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and in Scotland Green MSP Chris Balance has written to the Scottish Executive asking ministers to look into the Castle Douglas case.

The SSP’s Rosemary Byrne, MSP for the South of Scotland, is also asking the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, who looks at administrative processes involved, to investigate.

“I’ve grave concerns about the practises uncovered,” she said.

Meanwhile, Tory MSP Alex Fergusson is urging Dumfries and Galloway Council’s chief executive to put Tesco’s new store in Castle Douglas on hold until the RTPI completes its investigations.

The issue first came to light in Castle Douglas 10 days ago, when it emerged that an opponent of Tesco’s plans had lodged a complaint with the RTPI against Roger Slipper, a partner of GVA Grimley.

The complaint alleged that Slipper’s agreeing to write a report for the council broke the RTPI code of conduct, which state that members “must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that no conflict of duty arises between the interests of one employer or client and another, or between the interests of any employer or client and the interests of themselves or their firms or business associates”.

The Sunday Herald has learned that a complaint has also been made against England & Lyle in similar circumstances. Ross Dempster, an optician, wrote to the RTPI in June and last week on behalf of the Berwick Chamber of Trade and Commerce, to point out that England & Lyle had advised the council on catchment areas for a new Tesco store, although the firm also has Tesco as a client.

LibDem MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alan Beith, has written to John Prescott and planning minister Baroness Andrews calling for a public inquiry into plans to site up to six supermarkets on the outskirts of the historic town.

He too is concerned that the report prepared for Berwick Council stated that the potential catchment area for a Tesco store – the only supermarket of the six proposed to have been approved so far – included some 50,000 people, even though the population of Berwick is only 12,000. He said such a catchment area would impact on Galashiels or Kelso.

Beith said he wants the public inquiry to look at the role of England & Lyle in light of Tesco being a client, saying: “Even if the report is entirely objective, it is not entirely satisfactory.”

“It’s a conflict of interest at worst; at the least, it suggests that the council and Tesco are relying on the same source of information for shopping potential in the area.”

The Sunday Herald has also learned that GVA Grimley produced a retail survey of Crieff for Perth and Kinross Council in June in preparation for a proposed supermarket in the town, to be recommended as the site for a Tesco store at a council meeting on Wednesday. Another complaint is understood to be on its way to the RTPI over this case, along with requests to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman for an investigation.

“It doesn’t look good,” said SNP MSP for Perth, Roseanna Cunningham. “I think it will make people in Crieff very suspicious of the results of the survey that was done.”

Rounce, of GVA Grimley, confirmed he was aware of the complaint but he said the council was “relaxed”, and “absolutely” denied any conflict of interest.

Jonathan Refoy, corporate affairs manager for Tesco in Scotland, speaking of the process in Castle Douglas, said it had been conducted “with utmost public scrutiny”.

He added: “We are very robust in the nature in which we carry out our planning applications.”

21 August 2005

Friday, August 05, 2005

View of Tesco site.

Store will be built on far side of roundabout.

Trees in background, 150 year old Scots pines, will be felled.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Workers in Tesco's Irish distributing centres have been protesting against the sacking of two members of staff since Thursday 28th. Mainly Polish agency staff, they have been brought over by Tesco in the hope that they will work for lower pay and not know their rights. Managers have been bullying the workers, and forcing them to meet back- breaking targets. Now they are calling for solidarity pickets of all Tescos on Thursday the 6th of August, at 6pm.

A leaflet can be downloaded at

For more information on this story see

If you do organise a protest please send a report to ejasiewicz @