>>the office of fair trading has been given little on which to act


So, the OFT has given suppliers and those operating in the independent retail sector what appears to be a final ultimatum. Stop whingeing, says OFT chairman Sir John Vickers, and instead give us some hard evidence to back up your complaints so that we can act.
When it comes to the specific issue of suppliers and their dealings with retailers, the OFT says the code of practice is not being used to resolve disputes and that its report should not be taken as a clean bill of health.
Clearly we understand why suppliers are so reluctant to come forward. On page 56, for instance, we reveal that a supplier has complained to the OFT about Tesco demanding lump sum payments - but only now that he no longer supplies the retailer! Tesco says he was happy enough when he was a supplier. And his is only the second supplier complaint ever lodged under the code.
Little wonder that the frustration of Sir John and his officials dealing with what they call “our continuing scrutiny of the supermarket sector” just oozes out of the pages of their report. While they hear lots of complaints, it seems they are rarely given anything on which to act.
But at least they are listening - particularly when it comes to complaints on the wider issue of whether the the power of the big retailers is damaging competition, adversely affecting suppliers and will, ultimately, act against the interests of consumers. Why else would they have taken the extraordinary decision of turning a report on the code of practice into a discussion paper?
Even better for the critics of the big supermarkets is the fact the discussion paper explains exactly what sort of evidence the OFT needs to determine whether any further action is justified. How helpful is that?
Be warned, however. Within its lengthy report, the OFT makes clear that it cannot look into the social and economic consequences of the growth of supermarkets; that’s the job of government. It’s another clue, of course, for those who must now respond to the OFT report on behalf of suppliers and, just as important, the smaller retailers who are being squeezed out of the market.
I’m no fan of the OFT. Some of its decisions regarding recent c-store deals have been plain stupid. But I don’t think it could be any more helpful about what it needs if it is to take any further action. And the OFT’s message seems clear: it’s time to put up, or shut up.
OFt says put up or shut up