D-day looms for supermarket watchdog

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Pressure is mounting on the Government to establish a supermarket ombudsman.

MPs, farmers’ unions, NGOs and business groups will come together tomorrow to put pressure on Government to back the Competition Commission’s recommendation for a supermarket snoop.

The event comes on the eve of a much anticipated announcement by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson’s. He has only a few days before he must respond to a Competition Commission referral which recommends the introduction of legislation to create an independent Grocery Sector Ombudsman. The major parties have been invited to give a statement at the meeting.

MPs from across all parties are increasing the pressure on the Government to implement the Commission’s recommendation for a supermarket watchdog and not give in to pressure from the big retailers to water down the proposed new regulations.

West Cornwall MP Andrew George, who chairs the Grocery Market Action Group, is a long standing campaigner for better protection for smaller suppliers to the larger supermarkets. This group which includes; Friends of the Earth; the National Farmers Union; the Campaign to Protect Rural England; Action Aid; Traidcraft and War on Want, supports the Competition Commission’s recommendations.

He and the group supported the proposal to establish a Grocery Market Ombudsman which was a key recommendation of the Competition Commission’s inquiry. The Commission also found that some of the UK’s major supermarkets use unacceptable trading practices which “transfer excessive risks and unexpected costs to their suppliers”.

Most UK supermarkets, including the ‘big 4’, are opposed to the establishment of an Ombudsman, claiming that more regulation could increase their costs and lead to higher prices for consumers during the recession.

George said: “We’ve had a decade of inquiries. They’ve all now led to the inescapable conclusion that the larger supermarkets have gone beyond the point of successfully using their market muscle. Successful use has become abuse of power and suppliers need a watchdog to ensure fair play.”

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