Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The price of a pint of milk

Along with the cost of a standard loaf, the knowledge of the price of milk is supposed to be the mark of how much a politician is in touch with real life - at least, according to some broadcast journalists. It is slightly unfair, in that most busy professionals shop weekly and in bulk at the supermarket. However, I believe that MPs and especially ministers should be aware of the differential between supermarket and convenience store shopping.

I was shocked to notice that, having recently bought a four-pint container of milk in Morrisons (or was it Lidl?) for 89p, that one pint in my local corner shop now costs 60p. Even two litres - somewhat less than four pints - would set me back £1. (How much the farmer gets of any of that is another matter.) A standard sliced loaf in the mini-mart now costs over £1, while 60p appears to be the base price in supermarkets.

So the person without a car in England (at least we pensioners in Wales have the advantage of free bus travel at all times - where buses still run) pays over the odds for groceries. (This is something that should be borne in mind when one considers the minimum wage.) But at least the corner stores are there.

Now the chancellor wants to take away one of the advantages of the small shop, the ability to open late on a Sunday while supermarkets have to close at four in the afternoon. This has not been universally welcomed, even among the supermarkets.  Is it too cynical to see the decision as a result of lobbying by the US-owned ASDA, which has virtually no small stores?

My guess is that the measure announced in the budget will kill off some small shops where there is a supermarket within convenient travelling distance. Others should survive, but as economies of scale reduce further, the price differentials may well increase.

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