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Published:  22 February, 2008

Would you welcome an ombudsman to police the relationship between supermarkets and suppliers (pgs 5 and 14-15)?

Do you think the same as Dave Brooks of Finsbury Foods who says, "Suppliers need to take responsibility for themselves"? Or do you side more with another bakery manufacturer, who has to remain anonymous, because he says that late payment terms, demands for back pay, and a refusal to accept price increases, despite rocketing ingredients costs, mean that retailer power is out of hand?

The key question, according to Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation is: "Would the new ombudsman be given the tools to do the job?" My key question is: "How would anonymity be preserved?" rapidly followed by: "How can you make it a level playing field for all supermarkets?" Because level it must be.

Another key point, outside the Competition Commission's remit, is of course, small business rate relief to boost the high street. That is what is sorely needed and very much deserved.

But the Commission's suggestion of scrapping the current 'planning needs test' which limits the number of supermarkets built in a particular area, would spell more 'decimation' of the high street, by any other name. I strongly believe it has gone far enough - in fact much too far.

So I hope everyone, not just the British Retail Consortium, which represents the supermarkets, will get their lobbying hats on. Many different views need to be heard again before May, when the final report appears. Perhaps wholesalers to the craft industry could join with the National Association and Scottish Association of Master Bakers and present a strong united front. We live in an era where he who shouts the loudest wins most points.

Elsewhere this week, I find it ironic that out of 9,000 food scientists' and technologists' jobs, one in four is vacant (pg 17). When you add this to the fact that the shortage of bakery skills is 'dire' but official figures show that 1.24m 16- to 24-year-olds are not in a job or education, you have to ask, "Where on earth are we going wrong?"

Well, government is a good place to start. Our politicians are supposed to plan for the educational needs of students and the skills needs of industry. I think they are failing abysmally at both.




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