Andrew George urges Conservatives to fully commit to Supermarket Ombudsman
Andrew George MP – Chairman of the Grocery Market Action Group – offered a guarded welcome for the announcement by Conservative Agriculture Spokesman Nick Herbert MP that his party supports the proposal to set up a Supermarket Ombudsman. Mr Herbert will make this announcement at the Oxford Farmers Conference later today.
Mr George has been leading calls for the creation of a Supermarket Ombudsman for over 10 years. The Ombudsman as proposed by the Competition Commission would act to police unfair abuses of market power by the big supermarket chains. These abuses harm the interest of consumers, farmers and suppliers.
Mr George chairs the Grocery Market Action Group (GMAG). The GMAG includes Friends of the Earth, the National Farmers Union, Action Aid, Traidcraft, War on Want, the British Brands Group, the Association of Convenience Stores and others.
In August the Government’s competition watchdog the Competition Commission referred their recommendation for the creation of an Ombudsman to Ministers. The referral recommended that Government should legislate to create an Ombudsman. However in a November meeting with Business Minister, Kevin Brennan MP, Mr George and a delegation from the GMAG were told that Ministers were about to embark on another round of meetings with interested parties over the final weeks of the year before coming to a delayed conclusion in early 2010.
Mr George and the GMAG have maintained pressure on the Government since the Competition Commission’s made this recommendation in April 2008 following a 2 year inquiry. Mr George has also met with Environment Secretary, Rt Hon.Hilary Benn MP and Ministers from the Department for International Development. Mr George has also hosted a Parliamentary Symposium on the need for an Ombudsman that gathered members of the GMAG, politicians and expert speakers to discuss the issue and is a sponsor of Albert Owen MP’s new Private Member’s Bill seeking the same outcome.
Last autumn Mr George wrote to the Conservative Business Spokesman, Ken Clarke MP, to encourage his party to commit to supporting calls for an Ombudsman.
Responding to today’s Conservative announcement Mr George commented:
“I am encouraged that the Conservatives are making encouraging movements towards the fold of people and organisations those seeking a rational solution to one of the greatest obstacles to the development of a successful British agricultural sector. Although they are not signing up fully to the Competition Commission’s recommended remedy, it is at least a movement in the right direction.
“Earlier support would have been helpful, but I am grateful none the less. Now the pressure is on Lord Mandelson to respond to the Competition Commission’s recommendation by introducing a Supermarket Ombudsman before the General Election.”