Supermarkets make formal OFT complaint

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The Independent Online
SOME OF Britain's leading supermarkets have made formal complaints to the Office of Fair Trading about last week's report into retailers' buying power. They are furious about the timing of the report, which came just weeks after the OFT launched a full-scale investigation into supermarket profits. They are also unhappy about the way the OFT handled the publication and presentation of the study, which sparked a fresh wave of anti-supermarket headlines.

The board of Safeway has sent a letter to John Bridgeman, the Director General of Fair Trading, complaining that the report was "mismanaged". It is understood that Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, has telephoned Mr Bridgeman to express similar concerns. It is also understood that some of the supermarkets have been contacted by the OFT, which has expressed "regret" at the way the report was handled.

The core of Safeway's complaint is that last week's study was presented as an official OFT report, whereas it was only a research paper. Safeway says the report, which was mainly a theoretical study undertaken by three academics, should have been released before the official investigation was launched, not after it.

Separately, Safeway had complained about the conduct of Paul Dobson, one of the report's authors. It is unhappy that Mr Dobson made comments about the report ahead of its publication and that he later made remarks which were far more critical of the superstores that any statement included in his report.

"He was exceeding his brief," Safeway says. "We do not recall any behaviour like this before, either from the OFT of by the people commissioned by them."

It is understood that Safeway later received a fax from the OFT saying that the opinions expressed in the report "are not necessarily those of the OFT, or those of the authors".

The major supermarkets are feeling bruised by what they see as a concerted campaign to attack them. The OFT launched its official investigation into supermarket profit margins at the end of July. Then came the research paper on buying power last Thursday followed a day later by a Department of the Environment report on how out-of-town superstores are threatening British towns.

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