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Panorama investigation shows former Tesco chiefs trading blows over decline

A Panorama investigation into Tesco has shown the financial troubles which bubbled under the surface, until a very public move to try to make savings saw the retail giant forced to axe stores.

Two former Tesco bosses essentially blamed each other for the debacle.

Sir Terry Leahy was the man credited with growing the Tesco brand into one of the biggest retailers in the world.

He was at the helm for 14 years.

But as it was claimed Tesco had lost its low price reputation, and profits plummeted, both Sir Terry and his successor were polls apart in just where the blame lay.

Sir Terry had been in charge until 2011 and, during that time, profits had gone up four-fold.

He labelled the leadership of Mr Clarke – who left in June of last year – as a “failure”.

Mr Clarke, meanwhile, had recognised the success of his predecessor but said that there existed “critical challenges which had been building for some time” when he took over.

Share prices plummeted as a result of warnings over profits last year as sales began to slide.

It was around this time that work was starting on the new Tesco store at Alexander Road in Armagh.

But Mr Clarke’s successor, Dave Lewis, announced earlier in January that scores of stores were to close as a result of the company’s troubles.

The half-built store on Alexander Road was one of the proposed 49 stores UK-wide which Tesco decided to pull the plug on.

The company said it would close 43 unprofitable stores across the UK – a “significant proportion” of which will be local convenience shops.

In a letter to the Armagh Council leader, John briggs, Mr Lewis had said he was “very sorry that we have not been able to deliver the investment that we intended”.

Mr Lewis said: “As you will have read in the media, our performance as a business has fallen significantly short of where we would want to be. As a result the financial resources we have available for new investments are severely constrained and we have had to critically review all current and future investment decisions.

“My absolute imperative has to be to protect the future of our business for the c. 300,000 colleagues we employ in communities across the United Kingdom.

“In recent weeks we have had to face up to some very tough decisions which affect many hard-working people.”

Those hard economic times were something which had hit all of the leading high street supermarkets, but Sir Terry, in an interview with tonight’s Panorama, said the recession seemed to have hit Tesco more than most.

“People tried very hard to do the right thing,” he told the current affairs programme. “It clearly has not worked. In the end that’s a failure of leadership – not a failure of the business, not a failure of the people who work hard every day in the business.”

And Sir Terry added: “The one thing that was missing was this great strength of Tesco to take the pulse of the customer and know what they need today and be prepared to change and innovate in order to respond to customers’ needs now.”

Mr Clarke said among the “critical challenges” which he claimed to have had inherited was the exit in 2013 from the US chain of Fresh and Easy stores, something which had been launched under Sir Terry’s leadership and which had led to a £1.2 billion charge.

Tonight’s Panorama: ‘Trouble At Tesco’ will be available to view on the BBC iPlayer.

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