Looking at the regulation of the UK food industry, I despair. The industry has endured a series of inquiries that we question has made any difference whatsoever to its effectiveness. And at what cost? Does anybody care about how much tax businesses and employees pay? Has anyone done any sort of cost-benefit analysis of countless competition examinations, referrals and consultations?
Let's be clear. The only reason that the cycle of investigations commenced in the first place is because no-one in government had the courage to say to farmers of the day that there was no sound empirical basis to justify protests about supermarkets enjoying supernormal returns. A child could establish that supermarket margins aren't supernormal and that supermarket returns on capital are low, if anything poor.
Not establishing supernormal supermarket returns was an undoubted body blow to the administrators. So, the goalposts were moved. What about ripping off the consumer? Hooray another inquiry. But low and behold, it found that the customers' interests were not being prejudiced by the supermarkets either. Not deterred by evidence, it was decreed by the powers that be that 'we' need the OFT to sanction each store change of name, we need isochronal analysis and we need an industry ombudsman.
Which brings us on to the forthcoming new office of state this food industry ombudsman. Now, let's be equally clear. Unacceptable treatment of suppliers should not be permissible and supermarkets must not just pay lipservice in response to claims of supplier maltreatment.
However, there is no meaningful or usable evidence to show suppliers have been specifically and/or systemically abused by supermarkets. There's lots of noise and we know supermarkets are not easy to deal with; but what clients are 'easy' in any industry?
Despite this, expedience has decreed that an ombudsman with, no doubt, an entourage will be created. At a time when there is a chronic need to control public expenditure, we are staggered that even the Opposition agrees with a new office.
If created, the politicians' rhetoric about cutting public sector costs seems misplaced. To finish I state the view that if the ombudsman is inactive the office should be closed at the first opportunity. Surely, there are more worthy calls on stretched public finances?