Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Whose Shops Are They Anyway?

I spend several thousand pounds a year at the Channel Island Co-Op, for the convenience of their shop locations and the few hundred pounds kickback in dividends. I also shop a little at Jersey's other chains, for different product selections, or because I happen to be nearby.

Therefore, as a customer and shareholder, I like to think that the management have their eyes open for opportunities to minimise prices and maximise dividends and range. And so, it gave me food for very mixed thoughts, when they recently announced a grand new plan to shift almost all of their procurement to the mainland Co-Operative group's new national distribution centre at Andover.

There would certainly be significant upsides to the Andover move, in terms of efficiency and profitability.(*1) However, closer analysis reveals that there also some serious downsides, and, moreover, downsides that either do or should matter a lot to the CI Co-Op's general membership.

The biggest practical advantage would be that dairy and provisions could be ordered from national stocks on a day-to-day basis. At present, the CI Co-Op outsources fresh goods procurement to local wholesalers, who buy in stock to order for the Co-Op shops according to pre-orders estimated a week in advance, and sell it on to them on arrival. This shifts jobs from the Co-Op to their suppliers, but still keeps them in-island. The flexibility and responsiveness of 36 hour lead times has to be a good thing in itself. The obvious difficulty, however, is that shelf lives will necessarily be poorer on goods bought from stock held at Andover before shipping, than on goods shipped direct from source and redistributed locally on the day of arrival. The other major drawback would be that the work now done locally by the workforces of CI wholesalers would be done by the Andover staff. It would still be the same amount of work, but the cost of it would be drained out of the local economy to England instead of recirculated by local workers. A neutral decision for the company in terms of cost management, but a strategic blunder for the community in terms of economics and social responsibility.

The logic of shifting stocks of long-life goods to England does not stack up at all.(*2) Fresh foods can only be handled with a just-in-time system; too soon and they perish before sale, too late and they have missed the opportunity to sell and once again perish. But it is different with long-life foods. The freight links cannot operate in all weathers, so it is essential to carry local buffer stocks sufficient to cover the longest foreseeable interruptions. The running costs of local storage may indeed be somewhat higher than a proportionate share in the running costs of the Andover base, but they are necessary costs, and trying to dodge them will doom the CI Co-Op to empty shops in windy weather. Moreover, once again, local costs are mostly recirculated, while UK costs are more money lost to our economy, that somebody has to export something to replenish.

Even if some added value can be gained by judiciously targeted use of Andover for specific products, the CI Co-Op's local warehousing and wholesale supply networks are essential to the stability of its supplies on the shelves. Beyond that, it is supposed to be a player in the Channel Islands' economies, not Andover's.

The rundown and disposal of the local warehouses would release a substantial capital windfall, that would look good in the accounts for the year they took place. They are an asset that can only be stripped once, though. Once the directors have taken their bonuses for that cash-rich year, the shareholders are just left with badly supplied shops to show for the divestment.

One final point, those of us who hold share accounts in the CI Co-Operative Society are not merely customers. We are the owners and employers. And do we want to be the sort of employers who throw hard-working long-term employees on the scrapheap in the pursuit of an irresponsible fast buck? I for one do not, and if there are some who do, I am glad they are not my friends. On the other hand, do we want to be the kind of employers who meekly tolerate the managers we employ taking reckless measures in the pursuit of their own financial benefit? No again, speaking for myself.

If you are CI Co-Op members, please make the effort to get to the forthcoming Special General Meeting, and stand up and be counted against the Board implementing this shameful betrayal of workers and customer alike in your names.

Email comments:
(*1)The significant upsides have only been stated not rigorously debated from the figures I look at it is going to cost the CI Coop more, the shelf life will be marginally less and the range in the Grande Marches will be reduced. As for the logistics they will be a nightmare for the shops, with small back stores, used to JIT in cages for all their goods. 
(*2)This is an issue which *originates* in Manchester/Andover not the Channel Islands and the fact that the UK Coop have built an infrastructure that is underutilised. It is no coincidence that in the UK Ice-cream World has closed its doors because the UK Coop has *just* taken all the ice-cream distribution in house - sound familiar. Andover is throwing everything at the CI Coop to persuade them to change over, how long before they realistically price I have no idea but by then it will be too late. 

The CI Coop has the 3 biggest outlets by sales in the whole of the Coop group, the UK Coop is far more used to dealing with and ranging for the normal smaller UK Coops.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Don't Be A Blockhead!

As internet social media draw more and more people into their reach, so the odds of them being put in touch with others, whom they would try to avoid in offline life, rise. Therefore, the major players very sensibly provide a Block function, so that their users can hide themselves from anyone who they suspect may attempt to harass them on line, or, worse still, track them down for committing physical violence in the real world. Risks identified, remedy provided, job done.

Nobody has to justify their use of a Block against a potential menace, and any procedure requiring them to do so would be a counter-productive deterrent that I could not support. However, with the right to use Blocks freely comes the moral responsibility to use them fairly and ethically. I fear there are so-called libertarians, libertines really, out there, who feel their rights to behave unfairly and immorally take precedence over any obligations to the rest of humanity, and there always have been, but they have to be written off as a lost cause, while I offer food for thought to the more conventionally decent of my readers.

If your social media involvement goes no further than using Facebook to swap gossip with your immediate friends and family, then you can control matters well enough by setting everything to Friends Only and taking care who those Friends are. However, once you start going to Facebook's Groups and Pages, or using Twitter, or Youtube comment threads , or that dying dinosaur of Noughties internet, MySpace, then you have gone public, and even if you have the technical facility to be a control freak to those internet users that immediately surrounds you, you have ventured out of your private zone and should behave appropriately to the virtual public place you have chosen to put yourself in.

And what does all that have to do with blocking, you may ask. Simply this: Internet forums and discussions run on the assumption that each and every participant in the thread can follow the development of a discussion entry by entry. This linearity is why we call them threads and not scatters! They are virtual representations of public meetings. However, it would soon reduce a discussion to chaos, if substantial numbers of its members could not see each others contributions. How is a participant supposed to make sense of a discussion, if, for a hypothetical example, the second and third commenters can't see each other, unknown to them, they do know the fifth commenter and seventh commenter can't see each other and they have been blocked by the fourth commenter and don't even know that they are there? The dynamics just become unworkable. Even so, there is a deplorable fad for capricious blocking spreading through Jersey's online political community amongst both left and right wingers.

Slamming the cyber-door in the face of a cyber-bully is fair enough, although such retreat cannot be credibly spun as victory. What is inexcusably rude to an entire group, though, is to refuse to interact with all in that group on an equal footing, save those one has already fallen out with outside of the group. And yet, we are starting to see a tactic emerging where certain people, unfortunately including a couple of my own friends, wilfully disrupt the functioning of discussion groups by blocking people who have made no attempt to be malicious. Blocking someone for expressing an opinion you do not share, but are too lazy to articulate your disagreement with, or because they do not feel safe enough themselves in the online environment to expose their offline identity or lifestyle, is both boorish behaviour and ineffectual politics.

Political discussion is all about the exchange and comparison of ideas. If you will only read what you already think, you will never learn anything new. Progress depends on considering one another's views and having the integrity to change minds when faced with better ways. Thus, the most important people to address and be addressed by are not your own comrades, but those on the other side to whichever your own may be. If, instead, you refuse to engage with them, whether from rudeness or spinelessness, then you are marginalising yourself as a participant in the political process, a mistake for an activist and a catastrophe for a candidate, and may as well get out of the game altogether.

Free and open public discussion of political issues is the foundation of democracy. Attempting to exclude others from engaging is a threat to this foundation. Unless you genuinely believe that somebody will ruin your life, if you dare to let them communicate with you, and I fully realise that sometimes there really are such cases, then do not block fellow members of forums and discussion groups. It does far more harm than good to both the cause of politics in general and your reputation in the eyes of anyone who realises what you are doing.