The Association of Conven-ience Stores (ACS) is urging retail bakers and other independent retailers to join a high street “fight for survival”.
The ACS, which has a membership of 32,500 convenience retailers, wants support in its long-running legal campaign for the Competition Commission to revise competition rules on the grocery market. The association expects to continue fighting the case up to 2008, through possible appeals and a Competition Commission review. It anticipates that, in the worst case scenario, it will have to spend as much as £665,000 to fight through appeals processes.
The ACS is setting up a Community Shops Campaign Trust to support the process, and is urging bakers to give it their backing. ACS chief executive David Rae said: “This is not just an Association of Convenience Stores fight. We want it to involve the whole industry. Many independent retailers will think this is the one game in town that stands a chance of winning, and we want to involve them.”
The ACS suggests a voluntary payment of £5 per member of staff for retailers who wish to support the Trust and help fund the legal battle.
The Trust Fund will have a seven-strong board, which will include three representatives of the ACS, as well as four trustees from other independent groups. The National Association of Master Bakers is one of the groups asked to give its support, alongside bodies such as the Scottish Grocers’ Federation.
The legal arguments centre on the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) definition that the food market is divided into two separate markets – one-stop supermarkets and top-up convenience stores. This definition has allowed Tesco and the other multiples to expand their share of the market through building convenience chains, with their market share in the two sectors regulated separately.
The ACS and other groups, including Friends of the Earth, first asked the OFT to trigger a Competition Commis-sion review of the market in November 2004. This request was knocked back by the OFT in August, with little explanation as to how it reached its verdict. In October, the ACS appealed to the Competition Appeals Tribunal, which told the OFT to reconsider its decision. The ACS expects the OFT to announce whether it will refer the issue to the Competition Commission by April.
“Whatever the OFT says, we have to keep fighting. It’s about survival,” said Mr Rae.