all bark, no bite

It all started off in June 2005 when the Parliamentary All Party Small Shops Group, a group of 150 MPs, started an investigation into why butchers, bakers and many small retailers were jumping ship from the UK's high street. Nearly three years later, the inquiry, costing some £50m, appears to have done little or nothing to help small businesses. When questioned as to what is happening, MPs and government point to the work being done by the Competition Commission. Many would call it just passing the buck. Just look as if you are doing something and, somewhere, someone will believe you. All the way through the inquiry the big supermarket chains have been on the offensive, saying they are providing the consumer with value-for-money products. And the results have borne fruit for them; the Competition Commission has said that "in many respects, consumers are receiving the benefits of competition, such as value, choice, innovation and convenience". Complaints about the supermarkets hoarding land have been dismissed by Peter Freeman, the Commission's chairman, whose report shows a number of contradictions. Firstly, Freeman wants to introduce a competition test to the planning process, something he thinks should be overseen by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). But on page 190 of the report, he reveals that the OFT has already expressed concern about the idea. The OFT believes it is something for local planning authorities to sort out, with guidance from itself - not exactly what Freeman had in mind. The same recommendation has also been undermined by the Council of Local Government, which, on page 189, is revealed to be cautious about adding a competition test to the process because of the wider ramifications for the planning system. A second recommendation from the Commission - that the strengthened supplier code of conduct is overseen by a new ombudsman has been undermined by Professor Bruce Lyons, one of the Commission's own members. He believes that it would be counterproductive, costly and suscep-tible to outside interference. All in all a fantastic piece of work. I can't wait see what the CC has got in store for the future. All bark but no bite, I presume.

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