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Tesco chairman hits out at UK government over policy changes

·2-min read
Tesco Non-executive chairman, John Allan poses for a photograph in London

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) -One of Britain's leading businessmen has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government for reversing course on policy, including over anti-obesity measures, saying companies are more consistent.

John Allan, the chairman of Britain's biggest supermarket group Tesco, said he was talking in a personal capacity when he condemned last month's decision by the government to delay new rules banning multi-buy deals on food and drink high in fat, salt, or sugar.

"Unlike the government, you know, whose view is that having an idea and sticking with it for more than a week constitutes real achievement, we don't operate that way," he said.

"We’ve got these long term commitments which we’re absolutely committed to deliver."

Allan said Tesco Chief Executive Ken Murphy had spoken to Downing Street to warn against delaying the plan, which was designed to tackle high obesity rates.

"Ken personally told the prime minister's chief of staff more or less on the day that it was announced that we thought this was a really bad move on the part of the government," Allan told shareholders at the company's annual meeting.

Allan has held a series of executive jobs in Britain and is a former president of the Confederation of British Industry.

The policy, due to come into force in October, would have banned deals including "buy one get one free", "3 for 2", and put restrictions on free refills for soft drinks. Its delay angered anti-obesity campaigners.

Last month, the government said it was delaying the plan by a year, saying it needed more time to understand the impact on consumers, given the deteriorating economic conditions in Britain, where inflation is surging and consumers are being forced to cut costs.

Tesco said last month that it would stick with the original plan to remove volume-led promotions on the products that are high in fat, salt and sugar by October this year.

The government has reversed course on other policies in the last year, including introducing a windfall tax on oil and gas producers after originally rejecting the idea.

In response Downing Street reiterated its rationale for the delay, saying it will allow the government to review and monitor the impact of the restrictions on the cost of living in light of an unprecedented global economic situation.

It said addressing obesity remains a government priority.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton, Barbara Lewis and Toby Chopra)

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