The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called on the government to take the lead and instate a Grocery Ombudsman, as recommended by the Competition Commission’s investigation into the Grocery Market.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We are seeking support from across the political spectrum in an effort to combat delays and prevarication over the implementation of an Ombudsman. A new Ombudsman is vital to creating a sustainable and diverse market that delivers for consumers.”
The proposal for a Grocery Ombudsman followed a two year investigation for the Competition Commission, but the ACS says that since the recommendation the implementation has been delayed because the Commission has no power to enforce the decision and is instead forced to get voluntary agreement with the main supermarket groups. The Commission has also stated that if no agreement is reached it would recommend to the government it imposes the Ombudsman though legislation, but the ACS pointed out that the government has been “equivocal about what they will do if such a recommendation for an Ombudsman is made”.
Lowman criticised the government, saying it had failed to take the lead in the process and had therefore allowed uncertainty and delay to undermine the chance for a fairer and more diverse market.
He added: “Some of the supermarket companies have sought to convince government, the media and politicians that the Ombudsman will limit their ability to keep food prices low for consumers. This is not true, and is a cynical exploitation of consumer fears. The costs of an Ombudsman are small, and the restrictions designed to remove the worst abuses of buying power that all leading companies disavow.”
The ACS says it has written to MPs asking them to contact the Secretary of State to back their call for action, and also to sign up to Early Day Motion 2030.
Lowman added: “This action is a crucial part of our campaign for a fairer grocery market.”