I was quite cynical when the Adjudicator started. A code of conduct has been in place since 2001. The current version was introduced as long ago as 2010. Why would Christine Tacon (right) overcome the deep-seated fears of suppliers, and make them offer up information that might incriminate a buyer?
In the early days my cynicism was borne out by events. The information that incriminated Tesco over the overstatement of its profits by £263m was not loose-tongued suppliers, but a whistleblower within Tesco itself.
Tacon’s skill here was in seizing the opportunity. With both hands. Here was her moment to cast the net wider. And to make an example of Tesco. Even though the timing of Tesco’s transgression meant she was unable to fine Tesco, she made huge political capital out of her scalp. To show the government, and suppliers, she meant business.
Since then, there’s been huge progress, as this week’s YouGov survey shows, including a further improvement in Tesco’s compliance, and a “step change” at Morrisons.
Mission Accomplished? No. It’s still the case that 56% of suppliers are experiencing issues of one sort or another. So, it’s good to see the Adjudicator reappointed, even if it was at the 13th hour (half way through the GCA conference this week).
So, what else could the Adjudicator do to be more effective? Based on supplier feedback, Tacon has shown some appetite for extending the role to the likes of Boots and Booker. The case to arbitrate third-party suppliers is far less compelling, not only in terms of evidence, but also practicality. While all the political parties seem keen on the idea, even with pockets the size of Jeremy Corbyn’s, it would be an impossible task, which is why Tacon has insisted on a break clause in her contract.
Much more effective, surely, would be to increase awareness of GSCOP among smaller suppliers and particularly farmers, perhaps using the farming press. Trouble is: I don’t think they’re that interested. Their instinct is to complain, without actually engaging in the meaning and purpose of GSCOP. They would rather look at the tractor ads.