Every little helps, they say, and it didn’t take much to lift Tesco shares

Outlook: Mr Clarke pulled Tesco out of its disastrous American adventure and identified the problem with its antiseptic and unfriendly UK stores

The City appears to believe that Tesco has hired Harry Potter as its new chief executive while casting poor old Philip Clarke in the role of Voldemort.

How else to explain the fact that its second profit warning in short order saw a rise in the grocer’s share price. No, you didn’t misread that. Tesco said trading had been even worse than people had feared and yet the shares actually went up.

What wizardry is this? It’s Unilever’s Dave Lewis, that what it is. Alongside the profit warning was the announcement that the marketing magician from Unilever will be taking on Mr Clarke’s job.

This is a man with no experience of running a retailer and whose biggest claim to fame, until now, was those adverts for Dove soap featuring “real women” in white bikinis. Turning a campaign into a talking point with the help of a bit of (semi-)nudity doesn’t exactly require magical powers. It’s a conjuring trick, and not a terribly original one.

And yet Tesco shares are on the up. Perhaps there’s a reason for that. A lot of the hard work has already been done by Mr Clarke. He pulled Tesco out of its disastrous American adventure and correctly identified the problem with its antiseptic and unfriendly UK stores. He told the City it would have to accept that he needed to pump money into giving stores a spruce up while hiring extra staff to keep customers happy. He also said he’d cut prices.

Video: Philip Clarke - 'He just didn't move fast enough'

Unfortunately, if you’re the man who has to tell the City that it’s going to have to accept less, you run the risk of getting shot at the best of times. Mr Clarke might still have got away with it had his turnaround programme delivered quick results. But it didn’t, in part because its implementation left something to be desired.

Happily for Mr Lewis – who probably knows Tesco as well as any outsider could from his previous role selling to it – he will be given a period of grace during which he can blame problems on his predecessor while taking credit for any green shoots that might appear.

Unlike Mr Clarke, he also has an opportunity to dictate terms to the City should he decide there is a need to sink even more money into price cuts. If he’s sensible he’ll make use of it. 

The big question is whether he can turn style into substance. The City is clearly betting he can, based on his work at Unilever.

But Tesco isn’t the first beleaguered retailer to have turned to a skilled communicator with a fondness for fancy ads featuring bikinis. See under the heading Spencer, Marks &, where the results were rather mixed.

Will they be any better at Tesco? It’s certainly paying like they will. In addition to a basic £1.25m salary (£110,000 better than Mr Clarke’s), it’s stumping up the £525,000 bonus Mr Lewis would have received from Unilever had he stayed, plus a bunch of share options.

Mr Lewis stands to make magic money even if his wand starts to fizzle.

Treasury U-turn might still lead the wrong way

 From the pasty tax to the block on Royal Bank of Scotland’s attempts to pay its bankers bonuses of twice their basic pay, George Osborne’s Treasury has acquired something of a reputation for U-turns.

The latest – over the provision of advice on what people should do to with their pension pots when they retire – appears to be one of his department’s more sensible changes of heart.

Having handed Britons the freedom to do what they want with their pension savings it had been intended that they would get advice on what to do next from their pension providers, for which read: life insurance companies.

Giving the latter this responsibility immediately caused controversy because it looked akin to giving a small child unsupervised access to a tin filled with chocolate biscuits. The rotten reputation that advice from insurers has is well earned.

Of course there were going to be rules, and regulations, and safeguards built into the system to make them behave themselves. But this an industry that is attracted to scandal like a moth to a flame.

Just last year it emerged that Lloyds Banking Group had been operating what amounted to a sell-or-be-sacked culture that led one hapless individual to mis-sell life insurance policies to himself in a vain attempt to meet his monthly targets (for which Lloyds copped a £28m fine).

The question now, however, is whether the alternative (sort of) worked up by the Treasury will really be that much better.

Under the new plans pension providers will merely have to tell their clients that advice is available.

They will then be directed to one of the Government’s “delivery partners” (oh dear) such as the Pensions Advisory Service or the Money Advice Service (oh dear, oh dear). From whom savers will be able to request a sit-down meeting if they want one (and now you can add a third “oh dear”).

Quite apart from the fact that getting this in place by April 2015, as promised, is going to be a real stretch, the Treasury Select Committee has cast grave doubts on the MAS’s abilities, and recently came close to recommending that it be wound up.

Now that service is apparently going to play a key role in the delivery phase of “pension freedom” – one of Mr Osborne’s flagship reforms.

It looks horribly like a U-turn that might have saved soon-to-be-pensioners from the devil has instead cast them into the deep blue sea.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower