The UK government is temporarily relaxing competition regulations to allow the country’s major grocers to work more closely during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the new measures, retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda will be able to share data with each other on stock levels, co-operate to keep shops open and share distribution depots. It would also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed elements of the law would be temporarily waived in a meeting yesterday (19 March) with industry chief executives.

The Government has also temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours, so retailers can deliver more food to stores. It is also is waiving the GBP0.05 plastic bag charge for online purchases to speed up deliveries.

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.”

Trade group The British Retail Consortium welcomed what it described as an “important decision” to “give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus”.

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the BRC said: “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.”

The UK government is also temporarily relaxing rules on drivers’ hours to allow supermarket delivery drivers to meet the increased demand for home deliveries.

The change, which has come into effect today, will mean delivery drivers are able to work slightly longer hours – helping supermarkets offer additional delivery slots.