26 November 1999

Superstore findings will go public asap

By Isabel Davies

TRADE secretary, Stephen Byers, has pledged to make the findings of the Competition Comm-ission inquiry into supermarkets public as quickly as possible.

Speaking as he gave evidence to an agriculture select committee on milk marketing this week, Mr Byers said he expects the report next Easter and will announce any decision as soon as possible after that.

The minister would like to avoid a repeat of the situation with the commission report on the UK milk market where delays led to considerable tension in the dairy industry. In that instance, the gap between him receiving the report and announcing his decision was too long, he admitted.

Peter Luff, chairman of the cross party committee, urged the minister to consider an earlier publication date for the supermarket report.

He said it should be published before the minister had made any decision about its recommendations. On milk marketing, Mr Byers told the committee that processing would be the way forward for the new dairy co-ops set up to replace Milk Marque.

Speaking to the committee, Mr Byers said it was his opinion that processing was the way forward for the industry. He predicted that the three regional dairy co-ops set up to replace Milk Marque will be ready to go into processing by the middle of next year.

Asked why other countries were allowed to have large processing co-ops but the UK was not, Mr Byers said that having a dominant share of the market was not a problem in itself, but abusing that position was.

Another key difference was that other markets were not self-contained and there was more cross-border trading.

Farm minister, Nick Brown, told MPs on the cross party committee that the industry was in a transitional period but the dairy sector had a "good and secure future". &#42