One of the culprits of the last property boom/bust was the Tesco supermarket chain. So far, it has escaped Scot free from public censure for its role in the financial disaster that continues to blight the UK and global economy to this day.
For years, Tesco systematically cornered the prime locations in localities where it wanted to operate: it functioned not as a retailer, but as a classic land speculator.
It built up its land bank, helping to curb cost-cutting competition from High Street retailers and other supermarket chains, and pocketing the capital gains as land prices soared.
It expanded overseas, East and West, as if there was no limit to its operations.
Then, when the property market became insupportable, the financial system – which connived with speculators like Tesco – imploded. Many enterprises fell victim to the errors of others, and their employees paid the price: losing their jobs. Millions of families across Europe and North America had their homes repossessed.
Tesco retrenched. Recently, it began selling off chunks of its real estate. And now its new boss, Dave Lewis, wants the taxpayer to carry the can for its strategic errors.
Lewis says that business rates – the local tax on commercial property – are too burdensome. He wants to talk to government about cutting that burden, he told the CBI conference on November 9.
Lewis wants to shift the costs of the public services which Tesco needs to use, onto the shoulders of other taxpayers.
“Over the last five years property values have fallen and profits are down,” he bleats, “but business rates have risen quietly but dramatically.”
Well, Tesco made a major contribution to pushing up those property values. And it did not complain, as it marked up the rising value of its land on its books. But now, as the welfare costs have soared as a direct result of the disaster caused by property speculators, someone has to pick up the bill.
Why push those costs onto the innocent victims?
Why not place the costs on those who, like Tesco and the bankers, connived to create the chaos in the first place?