The battle for a level playing field will move forward under the new government, says James

New Labour's view of the grocery market wasn't always helpful to the convenience sector. Too often, Ministers bought the line that Tesco was the beating heart of UK Plc and that the other not-so-mini-me members of the Big Four provided competition that benefited the consumer through lower prices.

Even the full Competition Commission market investigation couldn't break down the perception that big was beautiful in grocery.

At a conference this week experts and campaigners had a chance to reflect on whether a change of government brings hope for a more level playing field for local shops. I'm optimistic and here's why.

First, there are still some outstanding issues from the Competition Commission inquiry that offer hope. Most important is the proposal for an Ombudsman. We want the Ombudsman to take complaints from other retailers. We know that suppliers are often too fearful of the consequences to come forward with their own complaints, so as well as a confidential process for them to do this, we want to see the superstores' competitors empowered to bring complaints.

Second, there is a broader point about the way that government might view competition in all sorts of markets. I don't think many members of the new government would naturally take the view that having four massive competitors in a market equals good competition. There's a genuine sense among the academics, think tanks and advisors close to the new government that smaller businesses need to be supported and given a better basis for competing.

That may all sound a bit far removed from your everyday business, but the simple fact is this: the battle for a level playing field for small local shops has moved forward and we're fighting it on your behalf.

James Lowman

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