The Conservative party has declared its support for a supermarket ombudsman with the power to curb arbitrate in disputes between supermarkets and their suppliers.

The watchdog was proposed last year by the Competition Commission but the Government has yet to confirm that it will impose the control on the multiples after attempts to establish a voluntary scheme failed.

Shadow environment spokesman Nick Herbert said the current voluntary code of practice governing the relationship between supermarkets and food suppliers is not “worth the paper it is written on” unless properly enforced. Ensuring a fairer deal for suppliers could see a narrowing of the gap in buying prices between supermarket chains and independent retailers.

“It is not enough to talk loosely about a fair market or the need for better labelling,” he said. “We need action, with a supermarket ombudsman and legislation to enforce honest labelling if the retailers won’t act.”

“Failure to do so could result in reduced investment by suppliers, lower product quality and less product choice, with potentially higher prices in the long run.” 

The Tories’ announcement follows Labour MP Albert Owen’s attempt to force action on the ombudsman with the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill. This is scheduled for a Second Reading debate on March 5.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said that a grocery ombudsman would ensure fair trading in the sector.

“Local shops will benefit from the more competitive marketplace that can only be delivered by an ombudsman with proactive powers to ensure fair dealing,” he said.

“This would not limit the supermarkets’ ability to drive keen bargains with their suppliers but would benefit consumers by promoting choice and innovation in the marketplace.”

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