Former Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon recalls an incident during her time sharing offices with the Competition & Markets Authority. 

It involves a senior executive at the watchdog demanding to know what she was doing in his meeting room – not realising, or caring, that this was the woman brought in to safeguard vast swathes of the food industry against the power of the supermarket giants.

Yesterday, that power and the sometimes uneasy dynamic between the two bodies was back in the spotlight. PM Rishi Sunak announced the CMA would not be absorbing the powers of the independent Adjudicator – a plan mooted by short-lived former business minister Jane Hunt last year, as part of a government “efficiency drive”.

The timing, of course, was no coincidence – coming hours before today’s gathering of food leaders at the Farm to Fork summit. Or the Sunak Summit, the Clarkson’s Farm summit… take your pick.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a sop to farmers at the summit, which included Clarkson’s supporting cast Kaleb Cooper and Charlie Ireland, though it appears the star himself had more pressing priorities.

Leaving aside that the Adjudicator doesn’t actually give farmers too many reasons to be cheerful, given so few of them are actually directly protected by GSCOP,  this was at least a breakthrough for common sense.

When The Grocer revealed the government was considering folding the GCA into its neighbour’s operations last July, there was a collective sigh of exasperation from suppliers. Not only did they rightly fear that the CMA would not have the resources or the inclination to prioritise supermarket relations with their suppliers, given the rest of its remit, but how could it possibly save money where the GCA was fully funded by a levy on retailers?

That idea may be scrapped, but the CMA will nonetheless be sticking its investigative nose into the groceries market. Yesterday brought news of a CMA probe into competition in the sector, as an extension to its ongoing inquiry into fuel prices.

This smells so strongly of a politically motivated decision, you wouldn’t need to be anywhere near today’s summit to pick up the stench.

Having seen the Lib Dems, Which? and various others jump on the bandwagon with claims of profiteering, it looks as if the government didn’t want to be seen to be weak on supermarkets, even if there appears to be no evidence whatsoever of a case to answer.

“I sense that this is entirely political and they have been told to do it,” is the verdict from one senior industry source.

Earlier this week, analyst Clive Black blasted irresponsible claims about “gouging”, accusing politicians of spouting “dangerous nonsense” in their suggestions supermarkets are raking in huge profits while consumers struggle with the cost of living crisis.

Now we have the CMA leaping on the bandwagon –  likely under the influence of ministers.

Admittedly, the authority does seem to have found some evidence that all is not what it should be when it comes to passing on lower fuel costs to drivers in supermarket forecourts. But as Retail Mind founder Ged Futter puts it, “that’s because Aldi and Lidl don’t sell petrol”.

“We’re seeing the various parties jump to the tune of the likes of Which?,” he adds. “It is quite frankly ridiculous. There is no evidence to back this up.”

Ironically Which? complained about not being invited to today’s event. Perhaps it should have asked Clarkson for his spare ticket. It has the government dancing to its tune nonetheless.

Yet it is hard to imagine the CMA finding anything other than the UK grocery market is one of, if not the most, competitive in the world.

That’s not to say supermarkets are squeaky clean. Far from it, otherwise Mark White, the current Adjudicator and guest at No 10 today, would indeed be taking up unnecessary space at the CMA’s offices.

So rather than looking to persuade an angry public the government is doing something to tackle their grievances on food prices, the CMA should be concentrating on real issues where it can help tackle unfairness, and where it can strengthen the Adjudicator’s powers to intervene when retailers put the squeeze on suppliers.

These are not issues of lack of competition leading to inflation – these are the result of buyers kicking around the supply chain to keep prices down.

Unfortunately, it’s not the sort of issue that generates summits or CMA flash investigations – or, indeed, votes from a misled public.