Retail is a highly competitive sector, particularly in the grocery market, with multiple companies competing for market share on price, brand and quality. Retailers are quick to respond to changing consumer preferences. The Competition Commission’s 2008 assessment of the groceries sector found that it was generally working well and that consumers were receiving the benefits of competition, such as value, choice, innovation and convenience.
I am happy to agree with the Minister on that, and I would like to draw to her attention the behaviour of the Co-operative supermarket in Cinderford in my constituency. It is using every trick in the book to behave in an anti-competitive manner to block a planning application that has been approved by my local council and that is popular with local people. Should not it just get on with competing on the basis of price and choice, rather than on the basis of the quality of its legal team?
I fully support competition in the retail sector, with its benefits for consumers. The competition regime in the UK is designed to ensure that competition works in the best interests of consumers; it is not intended to protect incumbent businesses from competition. The Government remain committed to a town centre first policy, but that does not mean that shops cannot be built outside town centres where appropriate. It is up to local authorities to ensure that their local plans identify the retail needs of their local communities, and that they provide a firm basis for any planning decisions.