Upmarket grocery retailer Waitrose has given surprise backing to the campaign for a retail ombudsman.
The deadline for responses to the Competition Commission’s inquiry passed last week and on deadline day Waitrose added its backing to the proposal, proclaiming that it had “stood apart from the majority of retailers by telling the Competition Commission that we are willing to give the necessary undertakings to create a retail ombudsman”.
The grocer joined only two other retailers – Marks & Spencer and Aldi – in not opposing further regulation of the supermarket industry. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Iceland, Somerfield and Lidl have refused to support the regulation, while the Co-operative Group remains undecided.
However, Waitrose head of corporate finance Susan Dole said that the retailer had not changed its position but rather had recognised movement on key issues by the Competition Commission.
Dole said: “From the outset we felt there was no precedent for an ombudsman between two business sectors and that The Office of Fair Trading – properly equipped – would be the best mechanism.”
Dole said that the Competition Commission had listened to Waitrose’s comments and that with its proposal that the OFT take charge of the budget and powers of an ombudsman, Waitrose was now prepared to back this approach.
“We feel the Competition Commission has acknowledged the issues and moved its position significantly and – although we are happy to continue the debate – we are prepared to come to a decision to back the ombudsman,” she added.
It is now likely that the process will be handed over to the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform at the end of June, which will consider bringing in legislation to establish the watchdog.