The head of the UK’s largest independent group of food wholesalers has lashed out at the Government’s £600m award of Business Rates relief to Tesco, which yesterday announced a £551m profit during the Coronavirus crisis.
Darren Goldney, Managing Director of Unitas Wholesale, which represents 170 regional food distributors, says: “This is a disgrace. The near 30% half year rise in Tesco’s profit suggests that over the full year it could make an extra £600m – almost exactly the same as the amount of taxpayers’ money the Government is handing over to them. Other major retailers have similar.
On the same day of this profit announcement, independent wholesalers supplying hospitals, care homes, community pubs etc are shedding staff, loss making and reviewing a future of borderline survival.
Many of Unitas’ wholesale members have lost up to 80% of their custom as a result of lockdowns, and fear there is worse to come. “The Scottish Government has shut down the hospitality sector again, and driven consumers back to Tesco and the other national supermarkets”, Goldney says. “We can see the same happening elsewhere in the UK and whilst we naturally don’t like and may not agree with measures that hurt, we do respect government has to make tough decisions. However, what we can’t respect is an absolute failure to manage fairly the consequence of those decisions and allow ‘viable‘ businesses and jobs go to the wall because they’ve put billions into the wrong place.
It’s absurd that large supermarket chains should be receiving financial support that enables huge profit growth. The hospitality sector, health care sector, care homes etc will need its wholesalers in order to continue, and it’s equally absurd that the Government doesn’t understand the need to keep that supply chain viable.
“I don’t know how these people can sleep at night – the Chancellor and his team who made such a blundersome initial award, and the Tesco management who I’m sure are good people who have worked really hard, but ultimately have been the recipient of both cash they did not need and huge sales increases on the back of the pandemic.
“On our side, the sleepless nights are caused by wholesalers having received no meaningful support at all, especially the business rate relief that we’ve continually asked for. They have been doggedly keeping open critical routes to care homes, hospitals and hospitality, even making a loss to do so. Some just can’t do it much longer.
“We need the Government and those who have ‘windfall’ benefit from this crisis to do the right thing. Taxpayers money is finite. The money is in the wrong place and ‘wholesale’ is able to laser target it to those in the supply chain who support outlets that our population rely on.”