Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy has attacked “woefully low” standards in Britain’s education system, blaming the government for a surplus of quangos and guideline overkill.
Joining other business figures who have publicly voiced discontent with the Labour government in recent weeks, Leahy said that Tesco, as Britain’s largest private employer, depended on high standards of education but was not getting them.
“Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools,” he told a convention hosted by retail thinktank IGD. “Employers like us… are often left to pick up the pieces.
“One thing that government could do is to simplify the structure of our education system. From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children.”
His comments come after fellow retail boss Sir Stuart Rose of Marks and Spencer hit out at Gordon Brown’s attack on the free market.
Leahy argued business’s corner, saying companies could create new jobs and pump much-needed money into Treasury coffers. “Today’s recession can best be tackled if businesses – of all sizes, from the street stall to Tesco – are not burdened with more tax and more regulation,” he said.
The speech coincided with cheering news for Tesco in its war of words with rival supermarket Sainsbury’s over sales growth. The latest TNS Worldpanel market update, regarded as gold-standard research within the food retail industry, showed Tesco was no longer lagging the wider market as it has been over the past year.
TNS data for the four weeks to 4 October show Tesco’s grocery takings rose 1% on the previous four weeks, while Asda’s rose 0.9%, Sainsbury’s was down 1.7% and Morrisons’ sales fell 2.4%.
Sainsbury’s boss Justin King last week questioned Leahy’s assertion that Tesco had started to regain ground lost to its rivals in the past year and in recent weeks had overtaken Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda in like-for-like sales growth. TNS data for the 12 weeks ending 4 October still showed stronger total takings growth for Sainsbury’s. Across grocers, total “till roll” growth was 4.4% year-on-year; Tesco takings rose 4.2% and Sainsbury’s enjoyed a 5.7% rise.
Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s have said that like-for-like sales are declining as a result of lower food price inflation, which a year ago was in double figures but has now almost completely disappeared. TNS puts it at 3.5%.
TNS Worldpanel director Ed Garner said growth would be “more challenging going forward without the flattering effect of inflation.”
But he said the gap between Tesco and the wider market had “all but disappeared” – helping to stabilise the retailer’s share at around 31%.