Tesco ‘urged’ to accept new rescue deal

Hunter Street has had a supermarket in it for four decades
Hunter Street has had a supermarket in it for four decades
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Retail giant under pressure to look again at shock closure decision as politicians & town present a united front.

A last-minute rescue deal has been brokered which could save Kirkcaldy’s Tesco store and 189 jobs - if the supermarket giant agrees to accept it.

Following the company’s shock announcement last week to close its superstore on Hunter Street on April 4, MP Gordon Brown held urgent crunch talks with all major stakeholders in a bid to secure a quick U-turn.

And yesterday (Wednesday) he urged Tesco to consider a deal with Fife Council, The Postings owners Threadneedle Street and the Post Office which could share overhead costs and save them around £750,000.

Having talked to site owners Threadneedle Street, the Kirkcaldy MP wants them to offer a one-off rent-free period as breathing space, if Tesco promise to give the superstore a new start in the town centre and save the Post Office.

Mr Brown has also asked the Council to look at rates, in line with the Scottish Government’s town strategy.

And he has proposed a new deal for the Post Office to make the postal service, which 3500 -mainly elderly - people depend on each week, work for Tesco.

Urging people to send letters to Tesco boss Dave Lewis, backing the Fife Free Press campaign, Mr Brown said: “With just eight weeks to change their mind I am acting quickly with a proposal to Tesco.

“I want to pay tribute to the dignity of all the 189 Tesco workforce and staff who continue to serve the people of Kirkcaldy.

“Kirkcaldy has been good to Tesco. Now it’s time for Tesco to be good to Kirkcaldy.

“The plan the council will offer to Tesco will be more detailed but I think already we see scope to persuade Tesco to lift the threat of execution.”

Last Wednesday, representatives from Tesco’s head office told staff at Hunter Street that their store was one of 43 across the UK to be axed in a bid to revitalise the beleagured company.

Bosses reportedly blamed the high cost of rates and rents - believed to be £700,000 and £750,000, respectively - in its decision to close, although Tesco refused to confirm this publically, nor reveal what its recent losses/ profits were.

It was later revealed, however, that Tesco would continue to pay rent to The Postings until the end of the year, despite closure in April.

In a statement last week Dave Lewis, Tesco’s chief executive said: “Earlier this month I announced that our performance as a business has fallen significantly short of where we would want it to be and that to protect the future of the business in the UK we would close 43 unprofitable stores.

“The decision to close the (Kirkcaldy) store has been exceptionally difficult to take.”

When questioned about what steps Tesco had taken try and retain the site the company responded it had “reviewed the store extremely carefully but unfortunately could not see a route to profitability.”

Threadneedle Street has so far chosen not to make a public statement and, despite ongoing talks behind the scenes, Tesco declined to issue any fresh information this week, electing to simply repeat its previous assertion that the store was unprofitable.

However, the company’s reaction to this latest development, which the Press understands would cut its rent substantially, will be of critical importance to the future of Kirkcaldy High Street, the future of The Postings and, not least, the future of 189 members of staff.

Councillor Tom Adams, who has worked part time at the superstore for seven years, said he had nothing but praise for his colleagues.

“On getting the word last Wednesday morning they were absolutely devastated - some were in tears and ran out of the room - but from the next day the dignity and integrity they’ve shown is quite something.

“From the manager to the store cleaner they’ve worked every day and probably given that wee bit extra, you cannot fault them,“ he said.

He added: “The staff cannot believe the overwhelming support that the public has given them.

“First of all we thought we had to get people on our side to simply save our jobs but that’s been overtaken by the public who want to save their store and stop Tesco taking the heart out of the High Street.”

Cllr Adam’s wife works in the store, and his daughter works in the Post Office but his is not the only family facing multiple redundancy in the wake of Tesco’s decision.

However, to his knowledge, Kirkcaldy is the only store actively putting up a fight to reverse its closure.

The fact that Tesco’s Grangemouth shop previously won a reprieve illustrated that a U-turn was theoretically possible, but Cllr Adams sounded a note of caution.

“The last thing I want to do is build anyone’s hopes up.

“As far as we are concerned the store is closed and anything else is a bonus,” he said.

“If we fight, we might lose - if we don’t fight, we will lose.”

Postings steps put on hold...

In a futher blow to shoppers in Kirkcaldy town centre, Fife Council has confimed Tesco’s planned closure has halted renovation of one of the town’s busiest - and most controversial - walkways.

Work to overhaul the Postings Steps at Bell Inn Wynd - which had been deteriorating over anumber of years and had attracted intense criticism from shoppers - was scheduled to begin this month.

However, last week’s announcement by the supermarket giant has prompted a review of the £95,000 project.

Fife Council says it remains committed to carrying out the work, but given that Tesco generated a high proportion of footfall at Bell Inn Wynd, the project’s future viability remains questionable.

Councillor Neil Crooks, chairman of the Kirkcaldy Area Committee, said: “We are on the verge of spending £95,000 on the Postings Steps and that commitment remains as solid as ever.

He added: “However, it makes sense and is prudent stewardship of our public funds to pause at this juncture.”

Impact: End of the road for many taxis

The closure of Tesco in Kirkcaldy could mark the end of the road for many taxi drivers in the town.

While some said they would manage to rumble on, others said they feared that the costs of buying, upkeeping and licensing their vehicles with around 50 cent of their customers no longer there, would not make it worth their while.

Roy Steele (65), who has been driving taxis for 36 years in Kirkcaldy, said he could see many drivers being paid off, with operators driving their own cars and getting rid of staff.

“There are between 40 and 50 taxis working the rank here at Tesco and maybe a handful of them will go and work at the other ranks at Hill Street or the railway station, but that still leaves 40 cars looking for work or a place to park,” he said.

“What the Council has to do if it wants to help us is to secure taxi ranks at the other supermarkets like Asda and Sainsbury’s and help us get more business through them.”

Derek Gilmour (59), of Gilmour’s Taxis, used to run three cars but now only has the one which he drives himself.

“If Tesco goes it will be a disaster and a lot of firms will go under,” he said.

“Other firms will pay off their drivers and drive their own cars, so either way people are going to lose their jobs from this.

“I’ve been driving for 33 years and this is a sad time because most of our work comes from Tesco customers. We know them all and the staff, and a lot of the older ones just get a taxi down to the town, get their pension at the post office have a cuppa in the cafe, get a bit shopping, then get a taxi back home.”