In a nutshell, why should the grocery industry vote Labour? Because we recognise your industry is key to Britain’s success and I want to lead a government that works in partnership with you. The grocery industry gives millions of families the chance to eat safe, healthy and affordable food. And Labour will work with the industry to be more productive and profitable, equipping firms and young people with the skills and infrastructure they need to succeed, as well as ensuring we remain open to the world through membership of the EU.
How would a Labour government ensure supply chain relationships in grocery are fair? What, if any, additional powers would you give the Groceries Code Adjudicator? Late payments often squeeze smaller suppliers, so we’ll set stronger requirements for large firms to report on their record on late payment and what action they’ve taken to compensate suppliers. The Federation of Small Businesses will be given the right to pursue cases on behalf of their members. We’re committed to expanding the powers of the Adjudicator to deliver a fairer deal for farmers and suppliers across the chain.
What would Labour in government implement to rejuvenate British high streets and give retailers a fair deal on business rates? It’s been a tough few years for many high street businesses, which are vital to creating vibrant local communities. We will help them by cutting business rates on properties with an annual rental value of less than £50,000 in 2015 and freeze them in 2016. This will benefit more than 1.5 million small business properties. We’ll also give local councils more control over their high streets, with greater powers to limit the number of gambling or fast food outlets.
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK and has more small businesses than any other sector. What would you do to give food & drink a greater voice and role in government, including the Department of Business rather than just Defra? Labour is determined to work with the food and drink industry to raise skills and wages, and help small firms find the investment they need. With that in mind, we’ll be launching a British Investment Bank with several regional branches. The industry will also be able to call on our planned new Small Business Administration, which will work across government departments to benefit smaller businesses and cut unnecessary regulation.
As a parent, what do you do to ensure that your children are not eating too much sugar? How could retailers and food and drink manufacturers make this task easier for you? Justine and I do keep an eye on what our children eat, without being too obsessive about it. The industry has become much more aware of this issue, but we will help out parents by placing limits on the amount of sugar, fat and salt in food that is marketed substantially to children, such as cereals, crisps and soft drinks. We will also give local councils new powers to limit the number of fast food outlets.
Why did Labour ditch its support for minimum pricing for alcohol as well as fat and sugar taxes? Would a Labour government continue with the Responsibility Deal? This government’s ‘Responsibility Deal’ has failed to deliver. It was too piecemeal and lacked teeth, and bolder action is required. But at a time when families are struggling with the cost of living, Labour does not believe new taxes on foods are the right approach for encouraging healthier diets. So we’ll take the new approach mentioned above - setting permitted maximum levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children. Faced with high levels of childhood obesity and the inadequacy of relying solely on industry to make the changes that are needed, we think that is the best way to go.
Where do you stand on the sale of energy drinks to children, ie should their sales be regulated? If so, how would you do this? The industry has a voluntary code on these drinks that they aren’t marketed to the under-16s. There are also new European Union regulations that require labels to make it clear they aren’t suitable for children or pregnant women. We would monitor the issue and stay in touch with industry and health experts to make sure children are getting the right protection.
George Osborne told The Grocer that he uses Ocado when in London because it’s the only supermarket that is allowed to deliver to Downing Street. Would a Labour government stick with this premium choice of provider, or consider another? And if so, which would your preference be for this - and why? In the midst of a campaign you don’t want to be measuring the curtains before you’ve moved into the house. But once there I hope there would be as much choice as possible! Supermarket deliveries are a godsend for working parents, and that’s how we do most of our shopping.
Do you believe supermarkets should up wages to the ‘Living Wage’? We encourage all employers to pay the Living Wage and we’ll promote this by offering tax rebates for companies that sign up as Living Wage employers in our first year in government. We’ll task the Low Pay Commission to identify barriers that could be removed, so employers who want to adopt a higher-wage business model can do so. We have to improve job security, so we’ll raise the minimum wage to £8 by October 2019 and clamp down on the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts.
What will you do to ensure the FSA is an effective regulator for consumers and respected by industry? The FSA has to be strengthened and start doing its job properly again. In government, we would look at how best to do that, though at the moment we’re not planning to restore its pre-2010 structure. But we will make sure the agency has the capacity to improve safety and tackle unhealthy practices. We can’t go through something like the horsemeat scandal again