5 questions over Marks & Spencer’s Woolwich exit

Woolwich M&SPlease note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.

I blogged last night on yesterday’s blow to Woolwich from Marks and Spencer’s decision to close its Powis Street store – and the council leadership’s rather unconstructive response.  This is a disappointing decision from M&S – but also a big reminder of the change we need to see from the new council administration, with much more engagement and consultation with businesses large and small, to ensure that we keep the jobs and investment we need in the borough.

Experience in my ward and elsewhere shows that the council’s approach to the regeneration of smaller shopping parades has been lacking (or indeed absent, as in the case of the Coldharbour shops where I and colleagues have been running our Mend The Mound campaign to secure improvements through public pressure).  As a result of this neglect, there is often a feeling amongst many residents (also picked up recently by Darryl Chamberlain on 853) that the council focuses too much on the borough’s 3 town centres at the expensive of smaller parades – but Marks and Spencer’s exit from Woolwich frankly calls even this supposed focus into question.

Here are 5 questions for the council that need answering;

  1. How many times has the council met with representatives of Marks and Spencer since the publication of the Woolwich Town Centre Masterplan in April 2012, and what were the outcomes of these meetings?
  2. When did the council first become aware that the future of the Powis Street store was in doubt?
  3. Marks and Spencer published its annual results on 20th May, a fortnight before the decision to close the Powis Street store was announced publicly, revealing a 3.9% fall in profits and the cancellation of all bonuses.  Was the council aware of these results, were they discussed in the context of the M&S stores in the borough, and what procedure is in place for the monitoring of economic and business factors at the macro level, such as this, that could have an impact on our local economy?
  4. While the public reaction to the decision from the council was noticeably hostile – with a spokesperson labelling it ‘bizarre’ in the News Shopper and the Deputy Leader of the council criticising a ‘lack of commercial judgement’ – what constructive approach has been made in private to Marks and Spencer since the announcement?
  5. Has the council considered offering any incentives in order to attempt to secure a reversal of the decision to keep Marks and Spencer on Powis Street?

I have asked these questions of council officers today and also intend to raise this issue at the first full council meeting later this month – and will keep readers of this blog posted.

There is also, of course, the question of what this means for the Eltham store. Cllr Spencer Drury has again aired local Conservatives’ long-standing concern over the future of M&S in Eltham in the light of the council’s damaging Masterplan, that the company has previously warned “could signficantly harm the operation of the store”.  Yesterday’s announcement certainly begs the question of whether Eltham could be next – for more on the consequences for Eltham see Spencer’s response yesterday here.

(Tom Turrell’s blog post on the decision is also worth a read)