South of the River – Common People

Compass-SouthComment logo 2I notice that the new Tesco Chief Executive Dave Lewis took some of his top managers to a country cottage.

This wasn’t supposed to be a jaunt. I’m not sure if ‘team building’ was involved but he made them responsible for the food. They had to go to local supermarkets, buy it and cook it. The idea was they would get closer to their customers, see the world through their eyes.

Tesco are now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for overstating (ie lying about) their profits. It got me wondering where he should have taken the accounts department. Perhaps he should have sent them to the supermarket too, but told them to pretend they’ve got no money like the girl in the Pulp song Common People. After all food shoplifting  is the fastest growing crime these days.

Perhaps he should send them to work for a charity trying to help people make ends meet. Maybe the Trussell Trust that helps run many of Britain’s food banks. Or perhaps he should put them on a zero hours contract and make them take out a payday loan at 5,000%. That would help them connect with a growing number of their customers.

I’ve been using buses a lot recently. My Other Half and I have been taking in the arts of this fine city. A trip to see the excellent film Pride has been followed by a visit to the opera with the Belle Isle based In Harmony Community Choir. Both excursions have been made by bus. At night.

There’s a quote about being a failure if you still use public transport over the age of 30. That’s clearly nonsense, but plenty of ‘successful’ people don’t use buses. Given the state of the earth’s environment I think more people should, it’s one way to reduce your CO2 transport emissions.

But it’s the social, rather than the environmental aspect that interests me. As we pulled out of the city centre one evening heading south, my Other Half came out with an interesting proposition.

“Everyone, especially powerful people, should have to travel by bus at least once a year.”

She went on to explain that as a mental health Social Worker, she regularly finds herself in a powerful position. If you’re not familiar with the Mental Health Act you should know that social workers and doctors have the power to take away your liberty, and to do so without going to court. It’s called ‘sectioning’ in the jargon. I’m sure she’s very careful about how she uses that power, but during an assessment it is part of the dynamic in the room.

Contrast that with the experience of a bus journey. You are not in control. The driver controls the vehicle, but the mix of passengers is random. You might see a friend or neighbour, or you might get a drunk, a person playing their music too loud or what Jasper Carrot famously referred to as the ‘nutter on the bus’. And any of these people might sit next to you.

It’s never been a great problem for me. I’ve felt uncomfortable sometimes, but never threatened or unsafe. But there’s always a bit of tension. How full will the bus be? Who’s getting on at the next stop?

I imagine it’s worse for women. Will a letch sit next to me? Will he make an unwelcome comment? Will he get off at the same stop as me?

Jeremy Morton Aug13People in control, powerful people need to know how ordinary people feel. How the people affected by their decisions feel. If they stay cocooned in flash cars whisking them from flash homes to flash offices and flash restaurants they will never understand.

I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.