Mark White Portrait

The government has scrapped plans to fold the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office into the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

The decision was announced as prime minister Rishi Sunak moved to reassure manufacturers and farmers that they will be protected from the buying power of supermarkets.

The adjudicator Mark White is among industry leaders attending the PM’s crunch talks on inflation in Downing Street today, which will include discussions on the fairness of the supply chain and ways to tackle the inflation crisis.

The decision came last night on the same day the CMA launched a probe into supermarkets following accusations of profiteering on the back of the cost of living crisis.

No 10 announced yesterday it was not proceeding with the controversial option, amid increasing scrutiny over alleged lack of competition in the groceries industry and the impact on producers.

The Grocer revealed in July last year that the government was considering scrapping the standalone adjudicator and merging its functions with the CMA as part of an efficiency drive.

The move was strongly opposed by suppliers and trade bodies who warned the competition watchdog would not have the same impact on protecting suppliers from supermarket abuses.

A No 10 spokesman said it had listened to concerns from trade bodies including the NFU and FDF abut the potential consequences of doing away with an independent adjudicator, 10 years after it was established with the appointment of Christine Tacon.

The government said it recognised the “unique role and needs of the sector” and “the importance in ensuring our food supply chains”.

The language was in stark contrast to that of then small business minister Jane Hunt, who said last summer the government was “particularly interested in whether there might be gains in efficiency and effectiveness in transferring the GCA functions to the CMA”.

It is was the second time ministers have looked at whether the adjudicator role, now held by Mark White, should be absorbed, but supplier bodies argued the move made no sense, especially with the GCA funded by a levy imposed on supermarkets.

White has been at the centre of what he described as an “avalanche” of requests for price hikes by suppliers, and is understood to be involved in a series of arbitration processes involving supermarkets accused of refusing to agree CPI requests, although he has so far not launched any official investigations.

Ged Futter, founder of The Retail Mind, who has described the proposals to ditch the standalone adjudicator as “madness”, told The Grocer: “The government has seemingly realised the bleeding obvious, that getting rid of a body that doesn’t cost the taxpayer a thing to fold it in to an organisation that does cost the taxpayer money doesn’t make any sense at all.

“Actually it won’t help farmers because many of them aren’t even covered by GSCOP. This is going to have a much bigger impact on suppliers to the supermarkets who have been struggling to get CPI requests through and facing issues over delists.”

John Noble, director of the British Brands Group, added: “Suppliers should be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the government is keeping the GCA independent. An effective GCA is as important as it has ever been and the dedicated scrutiny it gives to the grocery market is a big part of its success. Now is not the time to experiment with new approaches that could make suppliers more vulnerable and make it harder for them to deliver strong value and the choice of quality, innovative products that are so important to shoppers and to a healthy, vibrant grocery market.”

White said: “I welcome the findings of the review and the certainty it gives to the groceries sector. As I continue to focus on ensuring that the designated retailers are treating their suppliers fairly and lawfully, I encourage all suppliers to talk to me about any code issues they are facing.”