UK Government policy during the pandemic has been ‘skewed in favour’ of food retail, despite the sector enjoying record sales, a wholesale distribution representative has said.
James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the trade association representing the food distribution network into retail, catering and public sector, warned diversity of supply and regional jobs had been put at risk by Ministerial decisions taken over the past 12 months.
Speaking to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Mr Bielby said: “You see a number of different things across the year which benefitted the supermarkets.
“When it came to food supply in March last year, the Government’s number one priority was to keep supermarket shelves stocked, based on the 80/20 rule, given that is where people shop.
“We have seen that continue across a range of interventions. They have had £2 billion of business rates relief. They have had extended opening hours. They have had a relaxation of competition law.
“Perhaps most importantly, the hospitality trade has been given to them because of the restrictions which have been put in place. They have had record sales at the same time as they have had policy skewed in their favour, while the wholesale supply sector has had none of those.”
Mr Bielby also said struggling local wholesalers had lost out because of the Government U-turn on providing food parcels for school children, at a time when they already had excess stock because the announcement to close schools was given with 24 hours’ notice.
After a picture of a ‘woefully inadequate’ parcel from Chartwells was criticised on social media, Ministers made the decision to return to a voucher scheme, where parents were offered £15 to buy a week’s worth of food for their child.
Asked how much the sector had lost as a result, Mr Bielby said: “It is difficult to quantify but we are talking millions of pounds, because the vouchers parents receive can be redeemed only in supermarkets.
“I think they can use them at local shops with some difficulty, with specific arrangements being put in place at a local level.
“All of that money has just now been taken away and given back to the supermarkets.”