Whitewash

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If you have any doubt that the Competition Commission report on the commercial practices of supermarket chains was a whitewash that Persil might be proud of, note how quickly Tesco welcomed the findings that it and its smaller rivals are not guilty of excessive charging, nor of making excessive profits. The reality, as every shopper knows, is that a basket of goods is far more expensive here than on the Continent, and that too many British products are cheaper in France and Spain than in the supermarket nearest their factory. Little wonder that the three biggest UK supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's and Safeway - made combined profits of £1.68bn - more than enough to make the odd financial contribution to political parties.

If you have any doubt that the Competition Commission report on the commercial practices of supermarket chains was a whitewash that Persil might be proud of, note how quickly Tesco welcomed the findings that it and its smaller rivals are not guilty of excessive charging, nor of making excessive profits. The reality, as every shopper knows, is that a basket of goods is far more expensive here than on the Continent, and that too many British products are cheaper in France and Spain than in the supermarket nearest their factory. Little wonder that the three biggest UK supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's and Safeway - made combined profits of £1.68bn - more than enough to make the odd financial contribution to political parties.

The commission did find some other ways in which the market is "distorted": namely in the relationships between supermarkets and farmers, the unfair selling of some goods below cost (not a complaint that customers make) and the fact that not all the competitors have yet managed to appear everywhere. Stephen Byers, the DTI Secretary, will require the supermarkets to meet these secondary concerns. But the consumer will go on paying the price imposed by modern retailing.

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