Protecting producers from supermarket price war fall-out

Paceys of Spalding ANL-150126-121120001
Paceys of Spalding ANL-150126-121120001
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Recently I had the pleasure of again being with Richard Pacey, who is part of the team I am supporting to maintain and build Spalding’s People’s Parade.

What great news that Pacey’s is to reopen under new management and the traditional first-class local bakery, which Richard epitomises, is to thrive again.

Here in South Holland we are indeed fortunate to have a range of such local shops – many independent butchers also spring to mind – serving fresh produce of the highest quality. In many other parts of the country people simply have no choice but to rely on the big supermarkets, as local traders have long since been driven out of business.

The way the worst of supermarkets trade is a proxy for the worst of modern life: the triumph of convenience over care; excess over quality; uniformity over all that is charming because it’s inexact and eclectic. If you care about quality and variety, as I do, you cannot remain undisturbed by ugly superstores, exploitation of farmers and contempt for the public.

While the excessive profits once made by Tesco and the other big four supermarkets have begun to evaporate, their recent troubles are not entirely a cause for celebration. The predictable response of these monoliths to difficult trading conditions has been to lower their costs by putting even greater pressure on their suppliers. The capricious ruthlessness of particular supermarkets was once the countryside’s dark (open) secret – kept quiet for fear of those brutal giants. This government has stood up to this commercial bullying – establishing a Groceries Code Adjudicator tasked with overseeing the relationship between supermarkets and their suppliers. But perhaps we need to look again at further measures to protect primary and secondary producers from the fall-out of the current supermarket price war.

Dairy farmers, most of whom – as indirect suppliers – are not covered by the Groceries Code, have been hit by rapid cuts in milk prices. Incredibly, some supermarkets are now charging more per litre for bottled water than for milk.

As the Prime Minister made clear to MPs last week, it’s time to look at extending the remit of the adjudicator and, in particular, ensuring that it “has the power, if necessary, to levy fines so that it can get its will obeyed”.

My mission in politics has always been to be fierce in defence of the gentle. The variety and particularity of life in rural Britain must – and will – be protected from massive monopoly capitalists who would put it at grave risk for the sake of greed.