SUPERMARKETS are to work together to help feed the nation during the coronavirus outbreak, after the government relaxed competition laws.
The move allows retailers to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans.
It would also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.
The government has also temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours, so retailers can deliver more food to stores.
And the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases is being waived to speed up deliveries. The charge remains in place for in-store purchases.
The support for supermarkets came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson implored shoppers to ‘be reasonable’, and most retailers implemented measures to curb panic buying as Covid-19 cases mounted in Britain.
Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed the new retail rules in a meeting yesterday with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives.
He said: ‘We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation.
‘By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances.
‘We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus.’
The move was welcomed by the retail sector, with Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, saying: ‘Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain.
‘This is a short term measure, in the spirit of working together, and will allow retailers to agree common specifications for products to bolster food production, and co-ordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the UK have access to the essential items they need.’
Legislation will amend elements of the Competition Act 1998, which prevents certain types of anti-competitive behaviour. It can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances.
Meanwhile, delivery drivers will be allowed to work longer hours from today, enabling supermarkets to meet the increased demand for home deliveries. The change will also provide extra capacity if drivers are unwell.
The move comes after the government temporarily relaxed the EU drivers’ hours rules for store deliveries, helping move food and other essentials more quickly so that shelves can be stocked-up.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘We know supermarkets have seen unprecedented demand in light of Covid-19.
‘We’re relaxing the GB drivers’ hours rules so that supermarkets can complete more home deliveries – which is especially important for vulnerable people at this time.
‘But driver welfare is of course key and we will be working closely with employers to make sure the safety of their drivers and other people on the road is protected.’