Retail campaigners will have to pull out all the stops to convince competition bosses of the need for intervention in the market, the new chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading has hinted.
In an exclusive interview with The Grocer, John Fingleton also indicated that his six-month review of the OFT’s controversial decision in September not to refer the grocery market to the Competition Commission may only have a realistic chance of bringing about a change of heart if fresh evidence is offered.
Defending current competition policy, Fingleton rebuffed suggestions that the OFT had become the ‘Office for Tesco’, while warning that no retailer had the right to a continued presence in the market just because they had “been there historically”. The OFT was also not there to protect aggrieved parties “like candle makers when electricity came in”, he added.
Fingleton’s comments come as the OFT is more than a month into its six-month review. Interested parties are now in a race against time to get any fresh evidence to officials
before Christmas, while meetings with stakeholders will take place in the new year before Fingleton’s draft decision is put out in March. A final conclusion on the review and a recommendation on whether to refer the market to the Competition Commission will be put to the OFT board in April.
Fingleton said that calls for changes to planning law to allow effective challenges to market leader Tesco’s dominance were a matter for government planning chiefs. However, he added: “If we believe planning is restricting competition, we would not be shy of addressing that issue.”
And, in a defence of tough pricing by the multiples, he said: “We will always ask if consumers are getting a better offer.”
On other matters, Fingleton said The Grocer’s reader panel finding that more than one in three independents were buying products from supermarkets for resale was in the interests of both retailers and consumers if it saved them money, although he admitted it raised questions about the supply chain.
And he claimed it was up to Aldi and Lidl to convince shoppers that they offered a one-stop shopping solution if they wanted to be viewed as ‘effective competition’ when attempting to acquire stores from larger rivals.
p32 Laying down the law
Simon Mowbray