Comment: A far better thing for some than others

Erikka Askeland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Erikka Askeland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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It was a tale of two supermarket giants – the best of times for Sainsbury’s chief Justin King, and the worst of times for Tesco’s Phil Clarke.

The latter unveiled flat UK sales and a horrific performance on the continent – not even mentioning the US Fresh & Easy debacle, or its smaller slice of a larger pie deal in China.

Meanwhile Sainsbury’s had better numbers to show in its second quarter as it successfully straddled the UK’s two-speed economy, with winning budget ranges as well as higher-end “taste the difference” products giving posh Waitrose a run for its money.

But analysts did not follow Madame Defarge’s example and put Tesco on the guillotine. Although the shares slipped, most noted that the retailer is still only 18 months into a £1 billion, five-year turnaround plan – giving Clarke a stay of execution.

Our politicians are in uncharted waters

If business lobby groups elected the next prime minister, David Cameron would win. Yesterday the CBI, the IoD and a smattering of small business clubs were stoked by Cameron’s rhetoric on how profit, tax cuts and enterprise were not “dirty words”. Their enthusiasm was not mitigated by what most considered to be a policy-free speech at the Tory party conference in Manchester.

Simon Walker, director general of IoD, cheered him on, saying: “If tax cuts aren’t dirty, let’s have a few more of them”, while failing to resist carping on about how “governments must accept that to reduce the tax burden and unleash business they have to shrink the size of the state.”

Which is a big difference in the reaction to Ed “militant” Miliband last week, as the same cast of commentators issued grave warnings over the danger of energy firm tariff caps and land bank taxes.

But Miliband also employed rhetoric aimed directly at those who distrust the business lobby: “They used to say a rising tide lifts all boats. Now the rising tide just seems to lift the yachts,” he said. That looks like clear blue water between the two parties’ views. It will be fascinating to see in which direction the electorate tacks.

A taste of Scotland with a pinch of salt

Scottish food and drink is in rude health. But are its main products actually healthy?

Purveyor of whisky and gin, William Grant & Sons, this week reported record revenues in 2012 and is expanding production. Meanwhile producers of biscuits, snowballs, teacakes and macaroons are enjoying a roaring trade. Profits were sweet at Aberlour-based Walkers Shortbread while Borders Biscuits – maker of those lovely ginger and dark chocolate confections – is ploughing good money into expanding its warehouse in Lanark. Then there’s the beer. Scottish microbrewers are sprouting like mushrooms in the forest.

Just two Scottish-headquartered players – Innis & Gunn and BrewDog – are generating between them more than £30 million in sales.

The sector is so successful that its industry leadership body, Scotland Food & Drink, has set a new target of reaching £16.5 billion turnover by 2017, because it has already smashed through an earlier target of £12.5bn. Yes there is the wholesome beef and lamb, salmon farmed and wild, shellfish, oat cakes and asparagus galore. But it is hard to avoid the fact that the Scottish larder is crammed full of things we probably shouldn’t be over-indulging in.