Competition law eased to allow supermarkets to co-operate in crisis

People queue outside of a supermarket before it opens, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in London, Britain, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

The government said on Thursday it had relaxed competition laws to allow co-operation between supermarkets so shoppers can get the food they need during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement.

“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.”

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.

Eustice confirmed elements of the law would be temporarily waived in 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.

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.”