The Soviet leadership today acknowledged continuing problems with the production and sale of consumer goods and made specific recommendations - from construction of more supermarket's and department stores to improved manners for salespeople - to insure that the nation meets the consumer goals of its present five-year plan.
The action took the form of a long resolution from the Council of Ministers and the Central Committee of the Supreme Soviet, which rank just bellow the Politburo in importance. The resolution was prominently displayed in today's issues of the official newspaper Pravda.
"There are serious shortcomings in the work of organizations and enterprises dealing with trade," the leadership declared. It blamed the Ministry of Trade, the Central Union of Supplies and local planners for failing to pay enough attention to improving goods and services and the way they are presented to the public.
"Shortcomings are obvious in the selection and training of staff," the Kremlin said.
The resolution was the bluntest official talk about the country's troubled consumer sector in the year and a half since party leader Leonid Brezhnev admitted to the 25th party congress that the Soviet Union had failed in the previous five years to fullfill its primises to consumers to improve goods and services. It was a rebuke to the Ministry of Trade, the national bureaucracy that runs the estimated 700,000 retail establishments and 250,000 public eating places in the Soviet Union.
"It is necessary to organize permanent control of the work of stores and public catering establishments," leadership asserted, making clear its displeasure with disparity between goals and the actual performance of the enterprises and people who deal with the Soviet public.
The resolution called for more construction of efficient supermarkets and department stores, for better storage and transportation facilities for agricultural products, and for improve manners and performance on the part of sales and service workers.
For many years consumer questions have been clearly secondary to the problems of heavy industry and the military. But in recent years, as the standard of living has risen, consumer issues have had serious implications for the country's leaders. Newspapers and magazines routinely exhort citizens to treat customers better, frequently criticize shoddy workmanship, and sometimes report examples of rudeness or poor-quality goods.
During last year's party congress, at which the goals for the 1976-80 five-year plan were laid down, some Western sources reported that the upper levels of the Communist Party felt strongly that consumer products must be improved. Brezhnev, was said to advocate this approach, while bureaucrats at Gosplan, the state planning committee, wanted to minimize consumer improvements and continue concentrating on heavy insutrial output.
Some sources reported that the Central Committee, which elects the ruling Politburo, sided with Gosplan. Today's resolution may indicate that the Central Committee is taking a line closer to Brezhnev's. The 70-year old general secretary recently was made president of the Supreme Soviet and is at the height of his power.
One Western diplomatic source commented today:" it sounds like a Brezhnev resolution. He has been talking about a better life and more quality."
The resolution did not specify members or penalties for failure to put its views into effect. But it left little doubt about official displeasure at the sluggish way the consumer side of the economy is responding to high-level attention. The resolution calls for:
"Raising efficiency by construction of large stores and canteens."
"Improved design" of stores and more use of computerized sales aids, "saving customers' time," Long lines of shoppers queued up for everything from bread to fur hats are common in cities.
Construction of new distribution refrigerators, vegetable storehouses and general warehouses. Spoilage and waste caused by improper storage have plagued the Soviet Union. Even in the Nation's largest cities, the quality of fresh produce is generally well below that of Western nations.
Expanded self-service trade and further concentration of sales of clothes, footwear, fabrics, and household goods in large specialized stores, shopping centers, and department stores. Large department stores are rare in the Soviet Union.