I had just joined Barclays in 2000 when they launched their infamous BIG ad campaign, around the same time as they closed down nearly 200 local branches around the UK. Apart from the crass arrogance and appalling PR planning, they suffered because in many instances other High Street banks had already abandoned these small towns. Barclays was the scapegoat because they were the last to leave.
9 years on and Economies of Scale continue to impact upon communities. The decline of ‘local’ services under the relentless march of The Big 4 Supermarkets is well documented. Minor chains have been bought and sold, refitted and refurbished just trying to keep up.
We were recently in Kingsbridge in the gorgeous South Hams of Devon. The only real supermarket in the town was closed for a month as it changed brand from Somerfield to Morrisons. The town does have a couple of ‘extended’ convenience stores, but for a real family shop, the residents (and indeed tourists like us) had to travel 25 minutes. At the same time there are mobility problems – bus services there can be infrequent and not especially convenient. Many of the fabulous beaches are only accessible by car as public transport was cut years ago.
Most of these sorts of decisions are made for solid rational reasons. But who looks after the towns when the banks or chemists or supermarkets leave? Who cares for the landscape when farmers go to the wall? There are huge knock-on effects that are rarely considered. And all this rational capitalism only serves to isolate and alienate communities (wow – I’m sounding a bit like Marx!).
Travel behemoth First Group had been running a social media experiment in Bath this year, to great acclaim from local travellers. But now, it seems that economic sense has got the better of them and they’re closing it down, as they create a regional customer services centre in Exeter. Nearly 70 miles away. So, really helpful for up-to-the-minute stuff like weather, traffic incidents, staff issues and so on…
People can be more connected than ever: social networks reunite long-lost friends across the world; cheaper phone tariffs make it easy to stay in touch; I can commentate on a Take That concert or The Apprentice as it happens. Yet businesses seem stuck in old models, isolated and insulated from the actual effects of their decisions on real people and communities.