Posts Tagged ‘NotoCosta’

Milk & Honey

April 23, 2013
Milk & Honey

Milk & Honey

I had never noticed Milk & Honey before, probably because it was not there.

A little deli cum café on the left hand side of the main entrance into the Castle Grounds in Guildford, the top end where is located the bowling greens and a bandstand where plays take place.

I was actually on my way to visit Alice Through the Looking Glass, but the best laid plans of mice and men …

I decided to pop in and take a look. I was there all afternoon until late afternoon or early evening.

Occasionally one finds a lovely food place, where as soon as you walk in the door you see it is a labour of love. Grocer and Grain in Brighton is one such place, and that is what I was reminded of when I walked into Milk & Honey.

Home made cakes, coffees, teas. In the window Easter eggs. Easter eggs? Greek Easter is 5 May.

When people bought a cake, or a piece of cheese, it was lovingly wrapped and tied with a ribbon.

I looked up, and what I had not noticed before, handmade jewellery hanging from the ceiling.

I suggested for the summer, tables and chairs outside, freddo cappuccino. If Costa Coffee can block an alleyway and cause an obstruction, I can see absolutely no reason why Milk & Honey cannot have tables and chairs outside obstructing no one. Although with the park benches outside, pull up a milk churn as a coffee table.

We tried making a freddo cappuccino, but did not work, wrong glasses, wrong milk, and ideally need better coffee.

Another idea I suggested was little picnic packs for people to take and enjoy in the Castle Grounds.

Some hours later, I left to go off in search of Alice.

Occupy Starbucks and smell the hypocrisy

November 12, 2012
refuge from the cuts

refuge from the cuts

Amazon makes $20 million on $9 billion of sales – and says no profit goes to a tax haven. Really? — Richard Murphy, tax consultant

While tax dodgers Amazon and Starbucks avoid millions in tax – 230 women are turned away from refuges every day because of the government’s cuts. — UK Uncut

[to Starbucks] You’re either running the business very badly or there’s a fiddle going on. — Austin Mitchell MP, member of Commons Public Accounts Committee

[to Starbucks] I just don’t believe any corporate entity would sustain losses for 15 years and stay in UK. — Margaret Hodge MP, chair of Commons Public Accounts Committee

[to Starbucks] How do you explain telling global investors you make profits yet file £33mn losses in UK? — Margaret Hodge MP, chair of Commons Public Accounts Committee

It may be ageing or mellowing on my part but I think Margaret Hodge is getting rather good at this Public Accounts Committee doodah. — Mark Thomas

Today Starbucks, Amazon and Google were hauled before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to explain their tax dodging activities.

Together with Costa, Starbucks blights our town centres with coffee shops serving overpriced poor quality coffee. Starbucks dodges tax.

Amazon locates it e-books in Luxembourg where VAT is only 3%, but in dealings with publishers, uses 20% VAT as starting point for negotiations. If you have a Kindle, you risk that without rhyme nor reason your books will be wiped off your Kindle and your account closed.

Google is the third member of the tax dodging trio.

For idealogical not sound economic reasons the ConDem government is slashing public spending. Were companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Google to pay their fair share of tax, there would be no excuse to slash public spending as their would be no budget deficit.

A Reuters investigation from October showing that since Starbucks opened its first store in the UK in 1998 it has made £3bn in sales but paid just £8.6m in income taxes.

What many multinational companies do, and there is nothing new here, is make a loss in a high tax country, and big profit in a low tax country.

There are many ways of doing this. For example buying services from one part of the company that is located in a low tax haven.

Starbucks operate through Holland, because the Dutch government give them concessionary low tax rate, but it cannot be disclosed.

On 8 December 2012, UK Uncut intend to occupy Starbucks to highlight their tax dodging activities and to link the loss of taxes with the savage cuts in services which are hitting the poor and disadvantaged, in particular women. They intend to turn Starbucks into refuges for the homeless and women who have been turned away from refuges because they are full.

I would not normally be seen dead in a Starbucks, but maybe I can make an exception for one day. It looks like it is going to be a fun day.

If you are a small business and you pay tax, then why are you drinking coffee in Starbucks who do not pay tax?

In their evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee, Starbucks claimed their UK operation was not profitable. If it is not profitable, then let us make it even less profitable by boycotting their coffee shops.


October 13, 2012

Morello’s an Italian coffee shop in Farnham

Morello’s is a lovely little coffee shop in Farnham run by three Italian sisters.

It is always possible to tell a good coffee shop, from the ambience and attitude and enthusiasm of those who work there.

I had popped my head in Morello’s last week, liked what I saw and said I would come back.

I had hoped to get to Morello’s early afternoon, but dysfunctional public transport system meant I did not get to Farnham until mid-afternoon on a cold wet miserable day.

A cold wet miserable afternoon when soup sounds fine. Pea and ham soup, great, only it had gone, as had most of the food.

A had a salami and mozzarella cheese roll. It was very tasty and filling.

The coffee is fair trade. I suggested they took part in the Costa (dis)Loyalty Card scheme which was thought a good idea.

Whilst I was there a little girl came in and went straight to the ice cream. Obviously a well worn track.

I asked her did she like it in Morello’s? A definite yes.

I asked her was it better than Costa? A very definite yes.

I suggested to her parents that she would probably like it in The Barn. I suggested she tried their falafel and Greek salad.

Two other places she would probably like is the little Italian coffee shop in Alton and Cafe Mila in Godalming.

It is great when I see parents introducing their kids to good places to eat, not subjecting them to child abuse in McDonald’s.

I would have had tea and a cake, but they were closing early. For that I popped over the road to Kiara’s.

It is a pity Downing Street is not pedestrianised and free of traffic. It is a lovely street with old buildings, with quite a few food shops. But sadly horrendous traffic and horrendous pollution levels.

Afternoon coffee in Coffee Mi

August 30, 2012
Coffee Mi

Coffee Mi

Sometimes all is not as one would expect.

Godalming is an attractive little market town on the banks of the River Wey. A place one would expect to find little coffee shops and tea shops. And yet there is not single one.

Aldershot is an ugly run down town, the local council in bed with developers having done its best to destroy the town, roughs hanging about on the streets, were it not for the little ethnic shops serving its large immigrant population it would be dead, its only attraction an excellent fruit and vegetable stall on market days (Thursday). And yet, Aldershot has two little coffee shops.

Aldershot used to have three coffee shops. One was in The Arcade, the plastic replica of a Victorian arcade which the council allowed to be destroyed. The Arcade has recently changed hands and the greedy developer is driving out all the small businesses to turn it into a large bar (rumoured to be J D Wetherspoon) and a large store (rumoured to be Poundland). The last thing Aldershot needs is yet another large bar pouring drunken scum onto the streets. The last thing Aldershot needs is money drained out of the local economy. Loss to Aldershot one lovely little coffee shop of which any town would be proud.

One of the two remaining coffee shops is Coffee Mi in Victoria Street (almost opposite the Co-op).

Over the last few months Victoria Road has had new paving slabs laid. It looked quite nice for a couple of days. It was though an opportunity missed. Victoria Road could have been pedestrianised, closed to traffic, creating a pleasant environment, but the council jobsworth are not known for vision.

Coffee Mi lacks outside seating. Had Victoria Road been pedestrianised and closed to traffic, this would have been possible.

From the outside, Coffee Mi looks enticing. As you walk in it is quite pleasant, it looks like a coffee shop, but as the counter is approached, it changes into yet another snack bar cum transport café.

I asked did they do coffee and cake. The man serving said yes. All I could see was a trio of unappetising cakes that had seen better days. I asked did they have anything else. No.

I find when people take a pride in their work, if you take an interest, they are only too happy to talk to you. Not this man. Why are you asking, who are you, who do you work for? I do not know who he thought I was. Maybe he thought I was the Mafia doing a shakedown.

I managed to glean the cakes came from an Italian bakery in London, and that was it. His lips were tightly sealed.

Fair Trade tea and coffee? I saw nothing to indicate Fair Trade. From the look of the place I doubt it.

There was only one customer, and she left as I walked in. To put in context, Costa as I passed by was quite busy.

A transport café masquerading as a coffee shop.

The owner does own a transport café nearby, Frankies Cafe. I ate there last year. Never again, the service was very poor, rude and ignorant serving staff, and the food matched the service.

Aldershot has one Costa Coffee shop. One too many. It occupies the prime location in the town centre, on the corner where the two pedestrianised streets intersect, and at the centre of the Thursday market. The council turns a blind eye to its board in the middle of the street acting as an obstacle.

The two independent coffee shops are on the fringes, many people are probably not even aware of their existence as they get little passing trade.

Postcard from the edge of democracy

August 26, 2012

This month, two towns in Britain were engaged in a fierce battle to keep the corporate chain, Costa Coffee out of their high streets, Southwold in the East and Totnes in the West. A hundred people were thrown out of the council chamber in the normally quiet sea-town of Southwold as the local council voted in favour of the chainstore (following Tesco and WH Smith earlier in the year). Here Transition social reporter Jay Tompt in Totnes, looks at the process whereby outside developers and corporate interests outweigh the interests of local people and businesses, a pattern than prevails thoughout the modern world.

All politics is local but not all local politics is democratic. This fact hit home on Wednesday when over 100 Totnesians marched through the centre of town up to the local seat of power to demonstrate loud and clear that the town of Totnes overwhelmingly opposes the economic invasion by a large corporate coffee chain.

Follaton House sits just a mile outside the town centre and is the home of the South Hams District Council. The Totnes Town Council is virtually powerless. All decisions of any import concerning Totnes, as well as all other towns and villages in the district, are made here by councillors and bureaucrats, the vast majority of whom commute to this comfortable, self-contained estate, surrounded by arboretum and parkland. These commuters have little reason to visit the town and, for the most part, they don’t. If they had, they wouldn’t have been surprised to see their council chamber fill with citizens determined to make their collective voice heard. But actually, they weren’t surprised, just dismissive.

For three months, independent shop owners, community leaders, and citizens have built a strong case for keeping our local economy independent, resilient, and sustainable. They collected over 5,700 signatures from people opposing corporate coffee chains and in favour of supporting the over 41 independent coffee outlets in the town. They sought guidance from planning experts who found that several aspects of the Localism Bill and the new National Planning Policy Framework heavily supported local decision-making power on matters concerning sustainable development and the character of the town.

Strangely, even David Cameron is on our side: “For our high streets to thrive they must offer something new and different. But for this to happen it is local people who must take control, developing the vision for the future of their high streets and putting their energy and enthusiasm into making it a reality.“
Even more strangely, the South Hams District Council’s own development and strategic planning policy documents clearly spell out the strategic vision aimed at promoting locally-directed sustainable development and community vibrancy.

So, where’s the disconnect?

About 30 marchers were allowed in to witness how the wheels of local democratic government turn. The chamber is officious with judicial-style dais, the chairman of the Development Management Committee presiding in the centre just below, and above him hangs the obligatory still life with queen and consort. He was immediately flanked by the clerk and head planning officer, and on a lower level by the solicitor, secretary and the youngish planning officer, sporting sharkfin haircut and stylish suit, who would present his recommendation in favour of Costa’s application. The next three rows supported the councillors, their backs to the audience. All in all, a scene that’s probably repeated hundreds of times a week in council chambers across Britain for those charged with conducting the people’s business.

The planning officer made his case making slowly and methodically, making it clear in his first-person testimony – “I surveyed…I decided…in my judgement…I recommend.” He pointed out several times that regardless of the change in use of the property, the fact that it was Costa Coffee makes no difference, it’s not material, it’s not part of planning procedure, and not covered in planning policy.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Totnes, town councillor and community leader, Jill Tomalin, spoke eloquently for the need to reject the application on several material grounds, referencing current planning policy, as well as new NPPF guideline and the Localism agenda. After the Costa representative made his case, claiming that Costa Coffee outlets add to local character, generate more footfall, and give a boost to local shops, the floor was opened to the councillors. Local district councillors and allies then spoke forcefully for the application to be denied, citing the language in NPPF, Localism Bill and SHDC’s own strategy and development documents. Repeatedly, the planning officer and his boss made the point that the fact that it was Costa was not material and could not be considered. The council solicitor also weighed in to remind the councillors that the fact that the applicant was Costa could not be considered.

Comments from those who would in moments vote in favour of Costa reflected party ideology and a pre-agreed message strategy. Nearly every one began with the reminder that “as the Development Management Committee we’re bound to consider each case … blah … blah … irrespective … blah… blah…blah”. Some asked for further clarification from the planning officer, his boss, the solicitor – “we can’t tell someone consider who owns the business, can we?” A measure or two feigned angst: “I don’t like it anymore than you do, but our hands are tied.” One councillor pulled a Marie Antoinnette: “Over five thousand signatures in a town of six thousand? That’s …uh…um. Well, I don’t see why so much fuss over a cup of coffee. Humph.” And finally, an absurdly sarcastic councillor predicted that once it was in, Totnes would be thrilled with their new Costa. The entire chamber erupted with laughter.

The final vote was 17-6 in favour of Costa, who will soon move into the largest retail space in the lower part of the town, across the street from the Old Bakery. They’ll have 70 covers and will be in prime position to intercept plenty of tourist footfall. The landlord is based in London and refuses to lease the space to a local shop even through there have been three who wanted it and could afford the high rent. And now, apparently, the landlord is evicting a family who have lived above the shop for the last 20 years. But the No to Costa in Totnes campaign has not given up the fight, not by a long shot.

Fair enough some might say. Diving into the arcane “discipline” of planning policy is not for the easily bored. That’s part of its purpose, as is much in the way local regulations are developed, consulted, and propagated. But diving in might reveal that, in fact, the nameless, faceless bureaucrats were just doing their jobs, that the councillors hands were tied, that the system worked just as it was designed to do, minimising the fallible human element and maximising the smooth function of the free market.

But nameless, faceless bureaucrats and managers do make fallible human decisions without regard to justice, democracy, economic fairness, wisdom, compassion, collateral damage. It happens in every state government, in every multinational corporation, in every large organisation of just about every type, basically decent human beings, who love their families and want better lives for their kids, fill out the forms, tick the boxes, processing the inputs and outputs that keep the big machine running and the fortnightly direct deposits flowing. In their cubicles or corner offices, the ends of the chain of events in which they participate are perhaps so removed they’re not real, abstractions from a different department or continent, tangibly delinked from this pencil pressed to paper marking X in this box. And it’s in this incredibly innocuous harmless anonymity where it’s just a job and a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee where anything is possible. Anything.

— Jay Tompt

Posted in One World Column.

What this illustrates is a complete and utter failure of local democracy. Thick councillors spouting what they are told to spout, failing to look at the evidence laid before them. Council jobsworth dictating to to councillors how to vote.

If local councils are simply going to rubber-stamp what is placed before them, what is the purpose of a local planning committee?

It is local people who are best placed to decide what is best for their locality, their community, the local economy, not councillors and not planners.

Look around the country and see how many town centres have been destroyed by local councils in the pocket of developers and Big Business.

Costa Coffee dodgy business practises

August 23, 2012
Costa free voucher cannot even give the stuff away

Costa free voucher cannot even give the stuff away

Costa claim to be listening! Listening to who?

Costa claim to be listening! Listening to who?

Costa Coffee, like Starbucks, will flood a locality with coffee shops to drive all existing coffee shops out of business.

Planning consent is a minor inconvenience, to be ignored. Costa are quite happy to flout planning law and illegally open coffee shops without planning consent.

Illegal Costa Coffee shops: Bristol, Clevedon, Portishead, Southwold, Southend, Oxted, Sevenoaks, Thatcham, Beverley, Aberystwyth, Barnstaple, Darlington, Milngavie in Glasgow, Epping, Crowthorne, Lymington and St Anne’s.

Costa Foundation appears to be greenwash to make Costa look good. It is the customers who make the contributions, not Costa, not even matching pound for pound what the customers donate. Were Costa and other multinationals to pay a fair price for coffee the coffee growers would be able to earn a fair living and be able to afford to send their children to school.

Costa do not even seem able to give the stuff away. Out on the street giving out vouchers for a free coffee. Not only Costa, I saw McDonald’s doing the same today, out on the street handing out vouchers.

Naomi Klein in her excellent No Logo (a must read if you have not read), exposed the appalling working conditions at Starbucks (one reason I would never frequent Starbucks). If there was a slack period, staff would be ordered take a break, clock off, then clock back on when busy. This means you could be there ten hours but only get paid for two.

A con many companies are now employing is the Zero Hours contract. There are no set hours, like for example a 30 hour week, you only get paid the hours you work. I have asked of a manager in a Costa, are staff on a Zero Hour contract, he said no, but readily admitted staff are sent home if slack. Asked if they are still paid for those hours, he said no.

In Guildford there are five Costa Coffee shops, plus three Starbucks, plus at least one Cafe Nero. Those in the know in Guildford go to Guildford House, an art gallery, tourist information centre, plus a lovely tea shop.

Note: I originally said there are four Costa Coffee shops. I got it wrong, there are five!

Another lovely coffee shop in Guildford is Glutton & Glee, and unlike Costa or any of the other identikit clone coffee shops, it has character.

Farnham has one Costa Coffee shop (they must be slacking), still one too many. Costa claim to provide cultural and social space. Those in the know go to The Barn, quite literally an old barn, a genuine cultural and social space.

Alton has one Costa Coffee shop. Those in the know go to a lovely little Italian coffee shop with scrumptious cakes and lovely freshly made food.

Just when you thought it was bad enough with Costa and Starbucks, along comes Tesco with a chain of artisan coffee shops. Something of an oxymoron, Tesco linked with artisan. To fool the punters the chain will not mention Tesco, every little hurts.

Costa claim to be listening! Listening to who? They were not listening in Bristol, Southwold or Totnes where local people made it very clear they were not wanted.

It is long overdue for the Parliamentary Business Select Committee to take a look at the dodgy business practices of Costa and the failure of our local planning system to stop chains like Costa destroying our High Streets.

Costa Coffee’s digital PR journey

August 21, 2012
One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

Appears @CostaCoffee not interested in replying to democratically elected MPs. — Sarah Wollaston MP

Should be renamed how to ignore key stakeholders. — NotoCosta in Totnes

This has to rank as one of the most boring presentations I have ever seen, I was a ready to give up after a minute, but thought no, I will endure, and it was endure, until the end. I thought something interesting may occur. It never did. I was left wondering what was this guy on, as he droned on and on and on.

The one thing he did not have a clue about was how to engage with an audience, or how to make effective use of social media. I was never quite sure whether or not he was simply taking the piss.

Costa engage? Really? Try telling that to the people of Totnes or even their Member of Parliament Sarah Wollaston.

Costa did respond to Mary Portas, but that was only to refer her to their blog, and what was written there was a load of bollocks.

The blog is called coffee lovers. Having a laugh are we?


– keithpp – 69

– notocosta – 67.9

– costacoffee – 70.1

No a lot in it is there? So much for the high digital profile of Costa.

The only publicity Costa has been getting lately is extremely bad publicity.

Guildford has five Costa Coffee shops, three Starbucks, one Caffè Nero. Somewhat overkill!

Note: I originally wrote there are four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford. My mistake, there are five.

Those in the know in Guildford, that is those who appreciate a decent cup of tea or coffee and freshly made lunches, delicious cakes and afternoon tea and scones, know to avoid the High Street chains who churn out muck that may have some passing resemblance to coffee, instead they go to Guildford House, a listed building, an art gallery and tourist information centre (always helpful), located top of the High Street, more or less opposite Sainsbury’s. Walk through, down the stairs and there you will find a delightful tea shop, one of the best kept secrets in Guildford.

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

August 19, 2012

He’s the “retail doctor” that companies turn to in times of trouble. Simon Freakley tells Andrew Cave why big-name stores need a revolution.

The high street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

Simon Freakley is not afraid of being controversial. The chief executive of corporate advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper Europe thinks high streets outside London are dead and will never recover their former glories.

Freakley, 50, is also sceptical about the future for Marks & Spencer and other mid-market retailers and believes Britain’s commercial property industry has hardly changed since the Magna Carta and needs reform.

These are provocative views and more so because Freakley is far from a disinterested observer. His firm specialises in retail as well as the financial services, leisure and automotive sectors and has run high-profile high street administrations including Clinton Cards, Habitat, Hawkin’s Bazaar and womenswear chains Jane Norman, Fenn Wright Manson and Ellie Louise.

He is clear about the reasons for such collapses – generally bad management, failure to grasp the opportunities presented by the internet and social media, and being squeezed by converging retail sectors. He is the retail doctor and sometime undertaker, and as such his opinions matter.

Take Clinton, which Zolfo Cooper sold in June to American Greetings, its main supplier of greeting cards, after axing 380 of the group’s 780 shops and shedding 3,000 of its 8,000 jobs.

“It had been very profitable,” says Freakley. “But it grew very fast and took on a lot of leaseholds, many of which, frankly, were over-rented. When trading conditions got tough, the property costs were killing the business. The chain’s estate was ludicrously out of step with market requirements.

“In some large shopping mall locations, there were as many as four Clinton Cards stores. You don’t need to be a retail expert to work out that that’s a massive oversupply issue.”

Freakley says retail management teams are “behind the game” unless they’re on the cutting edge of online marketing and distribution strategies with a strong grasp of social networking that’s not just about Facebook and Twitter but also location-based sites such as Foursquare and content sharing service Pinterest.

“That’s what the really smart people are doing in the retail sector,” he says. “It’s absolute hand-to-hand combat between retailers out there in terms of who gets the customer and who doesn’t.

“Increasingly people are making their purchases at places like Westfield and the bigger out-of-town shopping centres, rather than shopping on the high street.”

Freakley’s analysis is that while the value and luxury parts of Britain’s retail sector are holding their own in the recession, the mid-market and upper-mid-market sectors are under pressure.

“If you look at the Austin Reeds, the Jaegers and the Aquascutums… they haven’t been smart enough and quick enough at moving their strategy…

“I think it’s one of the most pressurised places to be in the high street right now. M&S is in that space. I think it’s going to find it increasingly difficult to compete against value plays in its propositions.

“That business has to be fundamentally repositioned over the next few years. It’s lost its bellwether crown to John Lewis. What was once smart, refreshing and invigorating now looks stale.

“Marks & Spencer is a supertanker. It takes some time to turn around and what it needs is strong and visionary leadership.”

Is the current M&S chief executive, Marc Bolland, up to the task? “I don’t know,” says Freakley carefully. “I think the jury’s out actually.”

Freakley is a 28-year veteran of Britain’s insolvency scene, having run the corporate restructuring business of Arthur Andersen in the early 1990s before selling it to corporate investigations group Kroll, which was in turn bought by insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan.

He stayed throughout and in 2008 led a buyout, renaming it after the European operations of US corporate restructuring business Zolfo Cooper, which he had bought for Kroll in 2003.

Zolfo Cooper famously handled the restructuring of Enron, and its US operation, with 60 people in New York, is now run as a sister business to Freakley’s operation, while another sister partnership is based in the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

Freakley is at pains to point out that retail is only a part of his firm’s remit, as are insolvencies, with Zolfo also undertaking other corporate and pensions advisory work.

However, the retail administrations are what has given the firm its media profile and Freakley certainly holds outspoken views on the future for Britain’s high streets.

“Outside London, the world is very, very different,” he argues, saying how he was shocked by a recent drive through Croydon.

“Quite a lot of retail space is now being converted into residential. There are only so many charity shops and newsagents that you can put on a secondary high street.

“These units that have stood empty for so long are now finding alternative use and secondary residential is one of the ways that’s happening.

“I think that’s going to be an issue outside London. The high street as we have known it in secondary towns is largely dead, I think it will be redefined.

“I don’t think many of those units will ever be occupied again by commercial retail space. People’s buying patterns have forever shifted.”

Freakley argues that it is not the volume of Britain’s retail sales that’s the problem – total retail sales in the UK have actually risen by about 3pc in the past year – the issue is where they are taking place.

Some 10pc of all retail sales now happen online, and major edge-of-town shopping centres are stealing market share from provincial high streets.

“Those online sales are not coming back to the high street,” he says, going on to disparage the Government’s £5.5m package of support to help revive nearly 400 ailing British high streets under a plan suggested by Mary Portas, the retail expert dubbed the “Queen of Shops”.

“There will never again be the amount of retail activity that there has been on the British high street.

“I think the Portas report reflects a lot of wishful thinking. I don’t think it’s a strategy that’s going to re-establish the high street to its former glory.”

He expects the effect of the Olympics in keeping visitors out of central London for two weeks in mid-summer will soon find its way into retail profit warnings later this year.

So are we going to see another spate of retail failures? Freakley thinks it is possible.

“The difficulty is when you get into a situation where your profits really only allow you to service your interest, rather than pay down your debt or do some of the more expensive restructuring that’s fundamentally required to turn around the fortunes of your business.

“For retail operations, property is their biggest cost along with labour but their ability to buy themselves out of or renegotiate their property costs sometimes is limited because they don’t have the working capital to do it.

“Landlords have pretty much had their own way since the Magna Carta. In 1215, enshrining property rights at the hands of the landowners at the time seemed a very good idea. In 2012 where we’ve still got quarterly rental payments with upward-only rent reviews and rent paid in advance, it’s an absolutely outdated model.

“Other than in the super-prime areas, I think landlords are going to have to fundamentally rethink the way the contract between themselves and their tenants works. You’ll see more turnover-based rentals and monthly rentals or maybe even shorter-term ones.”

It should all mean plenty more work for the likes of Zolfo Cooper but Freakley insists that the firm keeps more businesses alive than it helps to dismember, saying that most of the firm’s work never gets announced.

“Frankly, if you can get into these businesses early enough, you can make a difference,” he says. “You can change the trajectory they are on.”

Is it frustrating then to be seen as an axeman? “Sometimes, yes. Most of the stuff we do is quite complicated surgery but much of that necessarily remains below the waterline. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re able to solve these problems before they require more public remedies.”

Published in The Telegraph.

I agree with Simon Freakley on M&S. The service is appalling. Often I go in and there will be one member of staff serving, a long queue and the other tills sitting idle. And even when all the tills are manned, still long queues. The reason is the removal of tills, to be replaced by automated tills, and insufficient check-out staff employed. What this shows is complete and utter contempt for customers.

We used to have bookshops, now we have Waterstone’s, minimum wage staff who unless you are very lucky, know nothing about books, as I learnt last year when I asked about Aleph, a new book from Paulo Coelho. Unfair competion, offering best sellers at half-price or less (a discount not made available to independents), is killing off the few remaining bookshops.

Greedy developers and absentee landlords.

On the street leading down to the church in Godalming was a lovely wholefood shop. It closed its doors last year. Driven out by a greedy landlord who wished to jack up the rent.

In Alton was a lovely wholefood shop. The man running the shop was hoping to continue for a couple of years in the hope of finding a buyer, then retire. The greedy absentee landlord wanted a long-term lease signing. The shop closed last summer, one year on it sits empty.

The High Street is dead, but it did not die of natural causes, nor can we finger the internet, poor service weakened it, but what killed it, a clear case of murder, was greedy developers, High Street retailers and corrupt town planners and councillors in their pockets.

Why would anyone wish to visit a High Street when it is the same Clone Town in Any Town, with every High Street looking the same?

When Costa, indicative of all that is rotten and corrupt about our local planning system, muscle their unwanted way into towns like Totnes and Southwold, then tried to claim they are an attraction for the town, that they bring vibrancy and vitality to the High Street, we have to at best treat it as a sick joke.

Costa though may have taken a step too far. I see parallels with London Greenpeace handing out flyers outside McDonald’s. McDonald’s countered with the McLibel trial which spectacularly backfired on McDonald’s.

Costa trying to muscle their way into Totnes and Southwold has spectacularly backfired on Costa. It has brought them national publicity, all of it bad. They are facing boycotts in both towns.

Costa has also highlighted that the local councils in responsible for planning in the two towns to be not fit for purpose with local councillors failing to act for the locality they are elected to serve.

Not that local councillors failing their local communities is unique to these two towns.

Aldershot used to have a wonderful Victorian Arcade. It was demolished, to be replaced by a plastic replica. The plastic replica, home to small retailers, is now itself facing destruction, to be replaced by a large bar and a High Street chain that keeps prices low by employing slave labour.

Bad planning has destroyed Aldershot.

Nearby Farnborough has fared no better. Planning consent was granted to demolish half the town centre to be replaced by a superstore, an estate of social housing was demolished for the car park.

Farnborough is now a ghost town.

Costa Coffee respond to not being wanted in Totnes

August 19, 2012
One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

@CostaCoffee Please listen to the people of Totnes. They don’t want you, they have 41 independent coffee shops already! — Mary Portas

@maryportas thanks for your comments, it would be great if you could spare a few minutes to read our blog on the matter. — Costa Coffee

Costa coffee must be feeling it, as they have written a blog post in response to criticism by Mary Portas. They have not written or responded to the local community, such is their contempt for local communities.

They cannot even get the link right, they link to the blog, not the post.

The blog is called For Coffee Lovers. Somewhat Orwellian. The one place coffee lovers would not go is Costa.

They say planning is complicated. Actually it is not. It should be a process whereby local people collectively decide what is best for their locality. In Totnes it spectacularly failed. Local councillors ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped the Costa application for an unwanted Costa Coffee shop.

The same happened in Southwold, where again the local council ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped an application from Costa for an unwanted Costa coffee shop, only in this case somewhat bizarrely approved an identical application which only weeks before they had rejected. What had changed?

Planning process is complicated? Is that the excuse put forward by Costa for ignoring the planning system altogether and illegally opening coffee shops in Bristol and sticking two fingers up to the local planning process?

The Costa blog is mealy-mouthed bollocks, half truths and lies.

Costa tell us they are doing Totnes a favour by filling an empty unit, that they are providing a social space, that they are merely simply coffee servers, no threat to anyone, they contribute to a local community, their offering is very different to local coffee shops.

Their offering is very different to local coffee shops. I would hope it is. I would hope local coffee shops serve decent coffee, freshly made, locally-sourced sourced cakes from the local baker (or better still bake their own) and that they do not charge extortionate prices for a cake and a coffee.

Provision of social space. Something all coffee shops provide, only when they are independent not a corporate outlet, it is a genuine social space.

Why would a Costa coffee shop bring people into an area to spend their money when the same Costa Coffee shop can be found in any Clone Town across the country? And even if it did, the money spent would be immediately sucked out of the local economy.

The shop unit would not have sat empty, there were other interested parties, but the absentee landlord refused to let.

Yes, Internet does suck money out of a local economy, but then so does Costa.

80p in the pound spent in a local shop gets re-spent in the local economy.

If Costa are happy to coexist with other independent coffee shops, then why do they flood an area with Costa Coffee shops (often with no planning consent), in a deliberate attempt to drive the other coffee shops out of business? The same aggressive tactics used by Starbucks.

At the end of the day, we’re just coffee shop operators. We’re not out to cause trouble or put people out of business. We’re there to serve coffee and provide a social space – nothing more.

One could almost be forgiven for believing Costa was a social enterprise, there for the good of the local community, a not-for-profit entity, not an aggressive wholly-owned subsidiary of Whibread, each a profit centre geared to extract the maximum revenue from a locality.

Southwold says no to Costa, local council says yes

August 14, 2012
Southwold notocosta

Southwold notocosta

Dear twitter. Despite all the support objecting to Costa Coffee in Southwold, their application was passed tonight. — Emma Freud

Once again we have a local council sticking two fingers up to local residents and acting in the interest of Big Business, not the locality, not the local economy.

Advice from useless planning officials: Councillors must rubber-stamp application as will cost the Council money if it goes to appeal.

It only costs money if you lose. You only lose because the planning officials are not up to the job. They are capable of deciding where a garden shed may be sited, and often not that, anything else is way beyond their pay grade and competence.

Residents of Southwold said they did not want a Costa Coffee Shop in their town. A previous application was refused on the grounds that it could harm the town’s “unique character”. If that was true before, what has changed?

There may be grounds for a Judicial Review, though these are granted not on the merits or otherwise of the application but on whether or not correct procedures are followed.

Questions have to be raised against the planning officials who pushed on behalf of Costa. They claimed it would not detrimentally affect the “vitality and viability” of the town centre.

This is simply not true. Clone shops, the same in every town centre up and down the country are destroying our towns, turning them into clone towns. Those towns and town centres that are vibrant and full of vitality are those which lack clone shops, North Laines in Brighton is a good example. One of the pleasures of a day trip to Brighton is North Laines, three streets with individual quirky shops. Clone shops are draining money out of an area, thus are a detriment to the vitality and viability of an area. A Costa Coffee Shop is not going to draw people in when you can drink their disgusting coffee anywhere in the country.

Shame on those councillors who failed to act on behalf of local people, on behalf of the local economy. The very people they are elected to serve.

One pathetic councillor left in tears after being heckled. She has only herself to blame.

The public gallery was then cleared. The public should have refused to leave, and only left if the police were called and asked them to leave. The Town Hall belongs to the people.

What we have seen is a repeat of what happened in Bristol and Totnes: Costa like a bunch of corporate thugs muscling their way into a town where they are not wanted and lily-livered councillors kowtowing to Costa.

The good folk of Southwold now need to organise a boycott of Costa.

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