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Competition and Consumer Protection Commission To Act As Grocery Ombudsman, Minister Confirms

Published on Mar 31 2014 4:49 PM in Retail

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission To Act As Grocery Ombudsman, Minister Confirms

(31 March) Minister Richard Bruton has said that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), to be formed following the enactment of the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, will fulfil the role of 'ombudsman' governing retailer-supplier relationships.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the Bill, Minister Bruton said: "The CCPC will be the regulator and enforcer in this area. They will have enforcement powers; they already have powers as authorised officers to assemble evidence, and there will be additional powers being given to them here. […] We have decided to go the strongest route that you can go, which is regulation that has legal force."

It had been anticipated that the government may seek to introduce a single individual as grocery ombudsman, similar to the role held by Christine Tacon in the UK, however the Minister confirmed that this will not be the case.

The Bill, published yesterday, establishes a series of 'Regulations' covering retailer-supplier relations, rather than establish a clear 'Code of Practice' for the sector.

"We are not making regulations as was thought of in the past in terms of a 'code of practice'," the Minister said. "Codes of practice are essentially about two sides coming together to agree an approach that would have some recognition. We tried that voluntary approach, there was no such common ground to be found, so what we are doing here is creating regulations that can be enforced legally. I think that offers a much stronger proposition."

Ibec group Retail Ireland has called on the government to ensure that decisions taken following the publication of the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2014 be "reasonable and proportionate" in dealing with the retail trade.

Retail Ireland's Stephen Lynam welcomed the fact that the Bill "does not provide for an expensive, cumbersome and bureaucratic code of conduct."

He added: "While we continue to study the contents of the Bill, and its impact on retailers, we urge the Minister to ensure that all decisions ultimately made under the Bill are reasonable and proportionate. Given the very narrow margins retailers are operating under, any move that would increase business costs would likely lead to increased prices for consumers."

Elsewhere, Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII), which represents food businesses, welcomed the provision to introduce statutory guidelines governing retailer-supplier relations.

FDII Director Paul Kelly said: "Unfair practices faced by food companies include a failure to respect contractual terms, de-listing threats and unilateral deductions off-invoice without sound business reasons. In the short-term, these demands impact on individual suppliers, but ultimately they are also bad for consumers. Consumers are best served by a grocery market that is both fair and competitive, one that offers choice and convenience, and provides an outlet for new products and suppliers."

© 2014 - Checkout Magazine by Stephen Wynne-Jones

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