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Supermarket power: action or fudge?

[Tuesday 23 January 2007]
skipton tesco
Report due on supermarket power

A LONG-AWAITED report on the growing power of the big supermarket chains is to be published today - but this morning was being awaited with tired cynicism by exploited farmers and small-town planners.

The big four chains - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrison's - have long been accused of driving suppliers to the verge of bankruptcy by paying criminally low prices for their produce as well as driving thousands of smaller retailers, especially those in rural market towns, out of business.

Governments both Tory and Labour have in the past 15 years or so have been promising action - but past voluntary agreements on a "fair payments" policy have been ignored, according to framers' leaders.

Today's report from the Competition Commission after months of investigation has been widely leaked, suggesting that laws may be introduced to enforce fair trading and that some of the chains will be forced to sell off thousands of acres of land bought in the hope of getting future-planning permissions for hundreds more stores.

But this morning, the commission was at pains to point out that today's publication would only be a preliminary report and its concrete findings would not be published until the summer - an admission which suggested to many people that this was a mere "trailer" so that the politicians can study any findings at length before making any decisions.

And as successive administrations have been unwilling to take on the power of the supermarkets - Tesco alone takes one of every eight pounds spent in the British retail industry - many seasoned observers expect that whatever action the commission finally recommends, it will be watered down if - and when - it ever gets to Parliaments.

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