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The Dave Woodhall Column

THAT'S ASDA - NICE!

04-08-2006

Like many people, I'm concerned about globalisation. The increasing power of the multi-nationals, their lack of concern for the environment and the problems they cause for small businesses and communities. But while I feel that there's something inherently wrong about the near-monopoly that giant monoliths such as Tesco and Asda enjoy on our family shopping, I also think that there's something a bit more fundamental that's at stake writes Dave Woodhall.

I grew up in Great Bridge, a part of Tipton, in the Black Country. It's a deprived, industrial area where the BNP have made significant gains in council elections, preying on local residents' feelings that they've been ignored by local and central government.

The people aren't well-off, life expectancy rates are significantly lower than they are even a few miles away, and the population is getting older.

If you visit Great Bridge, the first thing you'll notice on your arrival is an enormous Asda superstore.

I'm sure that the store and car park combined is bigger than some European countries.

It certainly has a turnover to match, with a car park that's rarely less than thriving and checkout queues into the small hours

People come from miles around to do their shopping, with the resultant cost to the environment exacerbated by the food miles totted up in bringing goods from around the world to the English Midlands.

Of course, Asda's success has led to the destruction of the neighbouring high street.

Where once there was a thriving small town, there's now an unattractive mixture of fast food joints, charity shops and poundworld emporia.

I've no doubt that this scene is repeated throughout the country, and many of us are rightly concerned about the true cost of shopping at Asda, the Tesco a couple of miles away and the proposed Sainsbury's in nearby West Bromwich.

However, let's look at things from a different point of view.

Put yourself in the place of the young mother living in Great Bridge, bringing up a family on much less than the average wage.

She loves Asda because it's easy to get there. It's quick to do your shopping under one roof. There are loads of heavily-advertised bargains.

She can take her children around safely because there's no traffic to worry about and security guards keep out the local ASBO candidates.

If they run out of anything she can always send her husband over there at midnight.

The local market might be cheaper, their food fresher and better-tasting, but she won't go in because she's been told that Asda's the cheapest there is, and their goods all look reassuringly consistent.

What's more, you can't buy frozen pizzas, baked beans and fish fingers in the market so she may as well just get everything at the same time.

But most important of all, both she and her husband work for Asda.

He's grateful to have any job he can get in a town that still hasn't recovered from the closure of the manufacturing companies that used to make up the bulk of the local employers; while she works part-time on the tills.

Neither of them are particularly bothered about lack of union recognition; unions are something their parents still blame for bringing them out on strike thirty years ago.

She's not bothered that part-time workers don't get much in the way of employment rights; with children at school she couldn't work any longer anyway.

They're not too worried about the environment either; they're too busy paying off the mortgage and the bills to worry about what world their children might inherit.

Anyway, Asda do care about Great Bridge. They let the local playgroup collect outside, they're always doing things for the schools and they gave her nan's daycare centre a lovely hamper last Christmas

It's easy for those of us who have the money to frequent farmers markets, delis and the little corner shop that might charge a few pence extra but it's worth it for the personal service.

We see huge Tescos and Asdas as a blight on the land, the environment and the community.

We look down our noses at those whose idea of preparing a meal is the journey from freezer to microwave.

But out there in the real world, the world of Great Bridge, and the hundreds of Great Bridges around the country, the grocery giants thrive for one overlooked reason.

People like them, trust them and most of all, they need them.

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