THE BLOG
08/03/2015 17:30 GMT | Updated 05/05/2015 06:59 BST

Why Gordon Brown's Latest Rescue Mission May Be a Lost Cause

As prime minister, Gordon Brown heroically pulled the international financial system back from the brink. It was a move that benefited the banks rather more than it helped the public.

His final act as a backbench MP might be to pull off another rescue mission for an organisation saddled with the consequences of its financial shenanigans. This time his quest is to rescue Tesco.

More precisely, it is to rescue the Tesco store in Kirkcaldy, preserving the 189 jobs of staff who work there. It's become quite a cause celebre in the town since the supermarket giant announced a round of store closures in January and abandoned a raft of plans for new developments. Other retailers fear the loss of the Tesco store could spell the end for Kirkcaldy as a shopping centre. Hundreds of people joined a Valentine's Day march to declare their love for Tesco.

Tesco's troubles are well known. They include over-ambitious expansion plans, both in the UK and internationally, and a business culture that led the organisation to overstate its profits by £250 million. You could say the culture at the heart of the world financial system that Gordon Brown did so much to rescue was as apparent five years later at the heart of Britain's retail sector.

The difference is that Tesco isn't about to collapse any time soon. The company's official trading profit in the UK in 2013 was just shy of £2.2 billion. Shave the odd £250 million off that and that's still a profitable company in anybody's book. So why Britain's biggest supermarket should need a former prime minister to go cap in hand to its bosses to save 189 jobs deserves some interrogation.

What Kirkcaldy's Valentine's Day marchers should know is that Tesco will never be a faithful partner. Its promises have never been to love and cherish the places where it operates, but to honour and obey its shareholders - who are more than a little twitchy right now.

There are better ways of thinking about how to keep a town alive. One that continues to inspire me is the Teenage Market, the brainchild of brothers Joe and Tom Barratt in Stockport. The Teenage Market opened up Stockport's traditional market as a space for the town's young people to celebrate their creativity - their music, their making, their business ideas.

It showed how just below the surface, a town that was once chosen by Newsnight as a symbol of high street decline was full of life and ideas. The Teenage Market idea has now spread to 16 towns across England, from Croydon and Kettering to Salisbury and Stoke-on-Trent. It shows that you don't need a Tesco to keep a town alive.

What you do need is to believe in local people. My new book, How to Save Our Town Centres, shows how this can be done. It can be as simple as growing and sharing food in a town like Todmorden; or as ambitious as taking on the transformation a whole neighbourhood for the benefit of the community, which is what's happened in Boston in the US.

What's lacking in many of our town centres isn't investment, but imagination. There's a kind of learned helplessness that assumes that only people with big bucks can make big changes.

If I wanted a superhero to rescue my town, I'd put my money on Joe Barratt, not Gordon Brown. Even better, I'd put my money on the Joes around me of all ages, backgrounds and genders who have the determination to make a difference.