Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Super Probe into Big Stores; Victory for Standards as Inquiry into Supermarkets Is Ordered

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Super Probe into Big Stores; Victory for Standards as Inquiry into Supermarkets Is Ordered

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN PRYNN

THE biggest investigation of supermarkets and their impact on Britain's ailing high streets is launched today.

In a major victory for the Evening Standard's Save Our Small Shops campaign, a watchdog has agreed to an inquiry into claims that the "big four" store chains abuse their power to kill off small independents.

The quartet - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and William Morrison - could face tough penalties, such as having to sell off stores, if they are found to be at fault.

The decision comes after more than three months of consultation by the Office of Fair Trading.

It was delayed by two weeks after more than 1,000 submissions were received from concerned groups ranging from dairy farmers to record producers worried at the effect of supermarkets' cut-price CD sales on music stores.

OFT chief executive John Fingleton has asked the Competition Commission to conduct the investigation, which could take as long as two years.

The decision was welcomed by campaigners and environmental groups.

Vicki Hird of Friends of the Earth said: "The original request for a market review was made as long ago as November 2004. At last the OFT has come to its senses. It is essential that the commission addresses the whole range of concerns, from farmers' How our 'buy

incomes to choice on the high street and the Tesco land bank."

It is the third time that the supermarket sector has been investigated by the competition authorities since 1999 but, crucially, the first time that officials will have looked at the fallout from the new breed of local convenience stores.

Some independent shopkeepers in London - particularly food retailers - claim the arrival of Tesco Express or Sainsbury's Local stores has devastated their sales.

The capital has been particularly hard hit with simultaneous high rent rises for shops and councils' aggressive parking policies. Figures released this week showed that while conveniencestore sales rose overall by four per cent last year, sales by "non-affiliated" independents slipped by two per cent.

The OFT's decision comes despite lobbying by the supermarket groups led by Tesco, which has just over 30 per cent of the total grocery market. …

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