The government’s timeline for the implementation of new legislation on high fat, salt & sugar (HFSS) products has been questioned by the opposition.

In a Parliamentary Debate on the planned Promotion and Placement Regulations, MP for Nottingham North Alex Norris questioned the October introduction date. “There is a strong sense from the sector that October 2022—less than a year away—will be too soon to implement it. It will be costly and complex, and businesses are asking for a six-month delay.

“Normally, my instinct would be to say, ‘Well, in the case of health and wellbeing, we need to get on with it and business will be creative and find a way’. But in this case, we have asked these same businesses in the last year to reconfigure their stores to make them covid secure for staff and for customers, and they have stepped up and done a magnificent job. We are now asking them to do a secondary configuration, still within the covid-secure measures, and perhaps then another reconfiguration after covid security is no longer needed. That is quite a big ask.”

He added that there is still a lot of detail to be delivered to businesses with less than a year to go. Earlier this week, the Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium and Food & Drink Federation put forward a list of 25 questions that need to be answeredby government.

Norris said: “The detail of the regulations will be in the guidance. We respect that some of the more technical issues, such as what constitutes a specialist store or what is a meal deal—an existential question for the 21st century—will not be on the face of the regulations, but we are asking business to make a really significant change in 11 months’ time and we still cannot tell them now what changes we will ask them to make. They will need to know the details to give them even a fighting chance of making that deadline. In which case, can the Minister say when the guidance will be published, because the sooner that can be done the better?

In response, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Maggie Throup said:

“I understand that these are novel requirements, and we want to ensure that we are supporting businesses to implement them.

“We took the decision to extend the implementation date from April 2022 to October 2022 as we believe that strikes the best balance between allowing businesses enough time to prepare while not significantly delaying the health benefits, so the implementation date has already been extended once.

“We will continue to work closely with stakeholders in preparation for implementation, as I have indicated, and further evaluate the impact of the promotion restrictions to ensure that they achieve the health benefits and policy aims effectively.”

Norris also raised concerns about the ability of Trading Standards to enforce the regulations. “The Government have slashed resources for trading standards over the last 11 years, including only three weeks ago in last month’s Budget, so I hope the Minister will tell us what assessment she and her officials have made of the capacity of local authority trading standards to enforce any of this.”

To this, Throup responded: “The Government are committed to ensure that enforcement of regulated policies is proportionate and fair and to support local authorities and the judicial system with any additional costs they incur as a result of enforcing these powers.”

When the implementation date of October 2022 was announced, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) called for more time to allow businesses to get ready stating that “it’s still not a lot of time to make significant changes to stores when retailers are rightly still focusing on keeping colleagues and customers safe during a pandemic”.

For more on HFSS, check out the Convenience Mix Podcast.