A last-minute plea by Gordon Brown to save Tesco in Kirkcaldy has succeeded in bringing supermarket bosses back to the negotiating table.
Tesco, which announced it would axe the Hunter Street store on April 4 with the loss of up to 189 jobs, has never wavered from its statement that the Kirkcaldy branch would close because it was “unprofitable” - full stop.
However, having secured a promise to keep the Post Office on the Tesco site until the end of the year, yesterday (Wednesday) Gordon Brown called on Tesco’s landlords Zurich Insurance, which owns the Postings, to cut their rent.
He said: “Zurich the site owners have done well out of Kirkcaldy over many years. Now is the time for them to do what they can to help Kirkcaldy in its hour of difficulty.”
The move, if successful, would form a crucial part of a wider economic package deal - which includes a rate reduction - to persuade Tesco to stay in town.
Although Zurich Insurance own The Postings, management company Threadneedle Investments is charged with getting the best deal from the site.
The Press understands Tesco currently pay an annual rent of around £720,000 and rates are in the region of £700,000.
Mr Brown spoke after a meeting on Monday with Dave Lewis, Tesco’s chief executive, whom he pressed for a reversal of the decision on the superstore.
He said: “Having made some progress with Tesco, I am in touch with the operators of the site, Threadneedle Investments, who speak for the owners and have made representations to them.
“We are all clear that the high rent has to be cut, not just to keep Tesco in the town, but to keep people coming to the centre and save the town suffering from a knock on effect where other shops will go and the High Street suffers.
“If a move were made now from both Tesco and Threadneedle Investments together to reach an agreement on the future through a new lease, this could tip the balance in favour of the store staying.”
He added: “It is in no one’s interest for Tesco to leave. Keeping this store in the town will keep people coming, having a positive effect on the local economy, helping smaller businesses and local people.”
The Press contacted Threadneedle Investment for comment yesterday (Wednesday).
A spokesman said: “We have already significantly reduced our rent to accommodate Tesco and we are waiting to hear from them.
“We hope this will secure the cooperation of the local council to progress discussions on the wider redevelopment of the centre.”
When earlier proposals were put before Tesco in recent weeks the supermarket repeated its original statement that the decision to close its Kirkcaldy store had been “unfortunate” but it could find “no route to profitability.”
This week however, a spokesman from Tesco said: “We were pleased to meet Mr Brown and remain in contact with him.”
A member of staff from Tesco Kirkcaldy, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Press recent developments had left the team feeling “more optimistic this week than last week” that there was still a chance the store could be saved.
Farmers’ market concerns over store closure
The planned Tesco closure has sent ripples of concern through small businesses who rely on the supermarket giant to bring footfall to the town.
Fife Farmers’ Market, which is staged monthly in the Town Square, fears it will suffer if the doors to the supermarket finally shut.
It is concerned about the impact of the closure on both the market and on the quality of the town centre in general.
The Kirkcaldy market has been running on the site for around 14 years, and has around 18 stalls from across the Kingdom..
It attracts around 800-1000 shoppers every month.
Tom Mitchell, chairman of Fife Farmer’s Market, said: “I am almost positive that the closure of Tesco will effect the farmers’ market just the way that I am sure that it will affect other businesses in the town centre.
“The supermarket brings people into town.
‘‘That will all change once Tesco closes its doors.”
It was also confirmed this week that the Post Office would be able to stay where it is in-store until the lease expires at the end of the year.
The agreement was confirmed at a meeting in London between Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, and Mr Brown, plus Councillors Neil Crooks and Dave Ross.
It was staged as part of the campaign to keep Tesco in our town.
This will give the Post Office time to find a new town centre location - several local businesses have come forward to discuss hosting the key community facility.
Mr Brown said: “The nearest main Post Office is 7.5 miles away in Glenrothes.
‘‘ There is a concern Kirkcaldy would be reduced to sub Post Offices and no main Post Office, but now Tesco has agreed to help the Post Office who will look for new franchise holder.
“I am pleased that there will continue to be a main post office in the town centre and that Tesco will allow it to continue for the time being on their site.’’