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Coronavirus in the UK: Supermarkets to pool resources and lift 5p charge on plastic bags for online deliveries



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Competition laws are being relaxed by the government in an effort to help supermarkets work together to ‘feed the nation’

Friday, 20th March 2020, 7:29 pm

Updated Friday, 20th March 2020, 7:30 pm

Supermarkets are set to lift the 5p charge for plastic bags as competition laws are relaxed to allow shops to co-operate amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The move will allow retailers to share stock level data with each other, pool staff with one another to keep stores open, and use each other’s vehicles and depots.

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The government will seek to amend elements of the Competition Act 1998, which prevents certain types of anti-competitive behaviour.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which proposed the changes, also said the government would waive the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases – helping to speed up deliveries.

Crisis meetings

The changes to the law come after Environment Secretary George Eustice held a crisis meeting with CEOs from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives on Thursday.

Stores across the country have struggled to meet the demand for a large number of supplies like toilet paper, pasta, and milk, as panicked shoppers stockpile amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A shopper walks past empty milk and dairy shelves amidst the Covid-19 pandemic (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Announcing the support for suppliers, Mr Eustice 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.”

‘In the spirit of working together’

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, reacting to the news, said: “We welcome this important decision by the government to give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus.

“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.”

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