Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What to do about Supermarkets

I'm in a good mood. Not only can I access my blog again (after two days of network problems) but I was invited onto BBC's Good Evening Wales yesterday after an age of being ignored. The subject was the Competition Commision's 'emerging thinking' on the power of supermarkets.

Public opinion about supermarkets in interestingly contradictory. Almost everyone chooses to shop in them - because they provide the choice, quality and convenience that they want. (I've just bought a 500 gm carton of seedless white grapes from a Tesco Express which will be open til 11.00 tonight - that's service). At the same time, the easiest way for a politician to win public sympathy is by blasting the power of supermarkets. For years, every farmer's meeting I've beeen to has had a go at Tescos etc..

While I don't have much time for all this knocking of success, I do agree that supermarkets should be obliged to act in the overall public interest. There are two main problems, which featured in my interviews with Felicity Evans on GEW and Gareth Glyn on Post Prynhawn - (in passing, both top rate journalists). The first issue is whether the major retailers are creating a monopoly position through tactics such as buying up potential development land, just in order to sit on it and prevent anyone else developing it. And the second issue is whether supermarkets are applying excessive pressure on suppliers. This week's report made specific reference to dairy farmers and implied that fear of reprisal prevented suppliers presenting evidence to the Commission. This a serious charge and must be dealt with.

The point to remember is that supermarkets are hugely successful because they are ruthless - and they wouldn't survive if they were anything else. Commercial ruthlessness is to a supermarket as catholicism is to the Pope. It is up to the appropriate authorities to control excesses. If we think supermarkets are using their power unfairly, blast the OFT and the Competition Commission for being to weak or blast the Local Planning Authorities for not screwing enough out of them for the local community through Section 106 agreements. Anyway its 8.15 and I'm just nipping back to the Tesco Express to buy some milk for my breakfast.

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