MPs back database to help shoppers budget

  • Major concern: David Burt, the Premier (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Major concern: David Burt, the Premier (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Shoppers will be able to budget better after a database designed to show the cost of essential goods in different stores was backed yesterday by MPs.

The House of Assembly heard that the public sometimes rushed to judgment over price gouging when some costs were outside the control of retailers.

But MPs were told that the legislation meant the latest prices for goods would be available electronically from businesses.

The Cost of Living Commission Amendment Act 2020 would also move authority over the commission watchdog from Curtis Dickinson’s finance ministry to Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, who is also responsible for consumer affairs.

Mr Dickinson said in February that an app designed to highlight the range of prices in stores was under development.

David Burt, the Premier, opened the debate and told the House that Bermuda’s cost of living was “ranked one of the highest in the world”.

He said that, even though inflation was at a 40-year low, food costs were a major concern for consumers.

Mr Burt added: “Food prices have always been high, but there is also a great lack of consistency in prices — not only between store chains, but within store chains.”

The commission was set up after a Progressive Labour Party pledge in the 2017 General Election to give more teeth to the Price Control Commission.

The Act, which will still require approval in the Upper House, would allow for a fine of up to $2,000 for businesses that failed to report the cost of essential goods.

Mr Burt said grocery prices were already “effectively public information”, but that not everyone could shop around for comparison.

He added that the island’s three big grocery chains used the same inventory software, which would help in the compilation of price information.

Mr Burt said the software to deliver price updates to the public would not cost more than $50,000 — a one-off cost that the Government would cover.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow finance minister, said even a small cost increase on particular items could mean a significant hit for some families and that grocery prices could change often.

She said price changes could be unavoidable with a foodstuff such as beef if supplies had to be discarded for health reasons. Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker of the House and chairman of the commission, said Bermuda’s dependency on imports made costs difficult to control.

Mr Burgess highlighted eggs, where prices doubled over the Covid-19 pandemic as a knock-on effect from costs overseas.

Mr Roban told MPs there was “a lot of mythology and misunderstanding” in Bermuda about how prices were set. He added that with better information, “accusations about price gouging might not happen”.

Ben Smith, the shadow national security minister and shadow youth, sport and social development minister, told the House that “a lot of hidden factors” affected prices.

Tinée Furbert, a government backbencher, said she would like to see the publication of prices extended to include prescription drugs.

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, claimed that the grocery industry had been “wrestling with its pricing” as well as cost margins since the global recession hit in 2008 and 2009.

He added: “Supermarkets are already in an extremely competitive market.”

Cole Simons, the shadow education and economic development minister, said: “I support the direction in which we are going, but I also believe that more has to be done for shopping locally and supporting our farming, fishing and agriculture industry.”

Mr Simons highlighted a need to make sure that fresh fruit, vegetables and meat were “more affordable”.

But Susan Jackson, the Opposition Whip and shadow government reform minister, said that the price comparison service was “a Band-Aid on a much bigger ... deeper, sore, wound that we need to heal”.

Michael Scott, a government backbencher, said that the wider problem of Bermuda’s high cost of living was driving some young people overseas.

He added: “We’ve got to stop causing our young people to emigrate to other countries because the housing there is cheaper and they know that they can make a start with their families in another land.

“We lose the benefit of their contribution to our country.”

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Published Jun 20, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 20, 2020 at 7:01 am)

MPs back database to help shoppers budget

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