OFT slammed for delay of grocery investigation

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has come under heavy criticism following its announcement that it would take at least another six months to review its decision regarding the dominance of supermarket chains in the grocery sector.

The total length of the OFT investigation has raised the ire of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) as well as the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), which have both called for the OFT to speed up its review.

Edwin Coe head of litigation David Greene, who is representing the 32,000 shopkeepers from the ACS, said: “We’re disappointed by the amount of time this investigation is taking. It would seem the OFT is confused about its role, and its confusion has been commented on by the CAT.”

A damning National Audit Office report has also recommended that the OFT monitor how quickly it takes regulatory action.

OFT chief executive John Fingleton announced that the OFT would deliver its decision on whether it would refer the grocery and convenience store market to the Competition Commission in April next year.

The OFT originally requested eight months to reconsider its decision after initially rejecting ACS calls for a market study of the sector, but it has since brought forward the decision by two months at the request of the CAT.

Greene said: “The OFT appears to be seeking information from the ACS regarding the parameters of its investigation, and that’s not for the ACS to know – the OFT should know.”

In a statement to The Lawyer, an OFT spokesperson said the regulator had agreed to the CAT’s request to complete the investigation as quickly as is reasonably possible.

“The OFT’s ability to meet its intended timeframe for its decision is dependent on timely responses by affected parties,” added the spokesperson.