The Government has temporarily relaxed elements of competition law as part of a package of measures to allow supermarkets to work together to feed the nation.
The move allows retailers to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans. It would also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.
The Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed elements of the law would be temporarily waived at a meeting with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives.
The Government has also temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours, so retailers can deliver more food to stores, and is waiving the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases to speed up deliveries.
The support for supermarkets comes as the government and retailers continue to urge people to shop considerately and look out for their friends, family and neighbours.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances. We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus."
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “In these extraordinary and challenging times it is important that we remove barriers to our supermarkets working together to serve customers, particularly those who are elderly, ill or vulnerable in all parts of the UK. The temporary relaxation of competition law for the food sector will allow supermarkets to cooperate with each other to keep their shops staffed, their shelves stocked, and the nation fed.”
Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain.”
Legislation will be laid to amend elements of the Competition Act 1998, which prevents certain types of anti-competitive behaviour. It can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances. This will be a specific, temporary relaxation to enable retailers to work together for the sole purpose of feeding the nation during these unprecedented circumstances. It will not allow any activity that does not meet this requirement.
The Government has also temporarily relax drivers’ hours rules to allow supermarket delivery drivers to meet the increased demand for home deliveries. The change to GB drivers’ hours rules will mean delivery drivers are able to work slightly longer hours – helping supermarkets offer additional delivery slots, which is particularly important for vulnerable people and those staying at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. It will also provide extra capacity if drivers are unwell.
The move comes after the Government temporarily relaxed the EU drivers’ hours rules for store deliveries, helping move food and other essentials more quickly so that shelves can be stocked-up.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said:?“We know supermarkets have seen unprecedented demand in light of COVID-19. We’re relaxing the GB drivers’ hours rules so that supermarkets can complete more home deliveries – which is especially important for vulnerable people at this time. But driver welfare is of course key and we will be working closely with employers to make sure the safety of their drivers and other people on the road is protected.”
The Government has introduced a number of measures to support the food industry’s response to coronavirus, including working with local authorities to extend the hours that deliveries can be made to supermarkets to ensure stores are replenished quickly and extending drivers’ hours to speed up deliveries.
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