from Bilal Bhatti, Financial Services Group, Deloitte & Touche LLP

War on red tape requires investment

from John Bowden, chief executive, WCTA

Sir; As the Tesco Express juggernauts its way into the convenience sector through a heavy television ad campaign, how many more times are people going to have to put to the Office of Fair Trading that the supermarkets are destroying the independent sector? The OFT appears powerless or, more sinisterly, is turning a blind eye.
Sainsbury cannot even keep its shelves stocked. Surely it should focus on its own in-store problems first before moving into convenience?
Still, I believe some of the blame lies with the good independents that sold out to
the supermarkets in the first place, for example, the sale of Adminstore to Tesco a year ago.
It is not just retailers. The Association of Convenience Stores, the OFT, delivered wholesalers, suppliers and consumers all need to act.
High street businesses also need to put pressure on the multiples as the poor performance of Marks and Spencer, Allders and Woolworths can be linked to the multiples dabbling in everything.
Telecommunications businesses will decline as supermarkets enter that area. High street retail banks will suffer from supermarkets offering banking services (more so than they already are).
Supermarkets employ anti-competitive, cross-subsidised pricing campaigns, selling well below cost price and raising prices on high margin goods.
No one can compete with that, which makes for an unhealthy market and gives consumers a raw deal.
Can we have a level playing field, please?
SIR; The Wholesale Confectionery and Tobacco Alliance gives a cautious welcome to the broad thrust of the proposals contained in the Hampton Review, published alongside this week’s Budget.
The prospect of one million fewer inspections alongside a 25% reduction in form filling is a good start, as is the suggestion that departments will begin to take seriously the problems of cumulative regulatory impact.
However, we have been here before. Previous wars on red tape have left wholesalers with more bureaucracy, not less.
We are particularly concerned that the transition stage to a new regime may leave our sector faced with a host of under-trained and overworked inspectors with little grasp of their new responsibilities and even less understanding of the pressures of industry.
Inspectors must aim to assist and improve and not immediately have recourse to fixed penalty notices. I fear that without clearly defined rules and investment from central government, the retail and wholesale sectors will yet again foot the bill in time and money.
We have already raised our concerns with responsible MPs and look forward to the formal consultation procedure starting next week. As always, we will involve our members closely in the response process and I invite all wholesalers with concerns and recommendations to contact my organisation.