David North - formerly Tony Blair’s senior adviser on environment, food and agriculture - found himself under fire from Tory activists at the Blackpool conference.
Farmers, local councillors and Caroline Spelman, shadow secretary of state for local government, lined up to voice a string of complaints about the way supermarkets in general, and Tesco in particular, operate.
North conceded: “Recently there has been criticism that Tesco is still building more stores. We sort of don’t apologise for that. That is the product of working within government policy and alongside government policy.” But he stressed that over 95% of Tesco’s developments were on brownfield land.
Spelman complained at a low level of local food on sale in major supermarket chains. She said there was a “a real desire” for more local produce, and this opportunity should be grasped.
North pointed out that Tesco was to bring in long-term contracts for its organic and premium suppliers in order to give them a solid future
Meanwhile, the Campaign to Protect Rural England admitted it had faced internal dissent over it linking up with Tesco to organise fringe meetings at the party conferences.
Tom Oliver, CPRE head of rural policy, said the link-up, which he was keen to see continue, was vital to give the group a “grip on reality”.