ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) has warned of the risks of weakening the powers and independence of the proposed Grocery Ombudsman, and has urged ministers to implement

faithfully the original recommendations of the Competition Commission. The comments come as ministers launched a 12 week consultation on the creation of an Ombudsman.

The ACS pointed out that, in the last two months, both the government and the Conservative leadership had announced their support for a regulator to ensure fair dealing and arbitrate disputes. This was heralded as an important breakthrough by MPs, trade bodies and campaigners for environmental farming and fair trade issues.

It added that supermarkets had fielded strong opposition to the Competition Commission’s initial recommendation for the creation of an independent Ombudsman, leading to a weakening of proposed conditions for the body. One of these conditions, recently put forward by the Conservatives, includes making the Ombudsman part of the Office of Fair Trading.

ACS Chief Executive James Lowman said: “An Ombudsman is vital step towards creating a fairer and more competitive grocery market. We welcome this breakthrough and will be urging ministers to move as quickly as possible to implement this measure that was identified as necessary nearly two years ago.

“Ministers will be under immense pressure to weaken the proposed remit and powers of the Ombudsman but they must stick faithfully to the recommendations of the original Competition Commission findings and ensure that the Ombudsman is independent, has proactive powers to investigate compliance and can exact meaningful financial penalties where necessary.”