The creation of a grocery ombudsman could be delayed by as much as two years as the Competition Commission thrashes out the detail with the supermarkets.

This was the fear expressed this week by supplier organisations, lawyers and MPs at a meeting with the commission’s groceries inquiry director Andrew Taylor at Westminster. It had taken nearly 18 months to get the big five to agree to the Supermarkets Code of Practice following the commission inquiry in 2000, said leading competition lawyer Michael Hutchings. “How long could it be strung out for with 10 retailers involved? We don’t want to wait another 18 months.”

Should the retailers – the big four plus M&S, Waitrose, the Co-operative Group, Aldi, Lidl and Netto – not agree on the role of the ombudsman, the commission could recommend to government intervention. However, Taylor would not give any definitive guidance on how long the commission would give retailers. “It may be quick, it may not be,” he said. “We will give them time to reach an agreement, but we’ve no desire to spend the rest of our working lives on this either.”

He did confirm, however, that the commission would not begin talks before September. He also revealed it would start drafting the order that would see the proposed strengthened code of practice come into force at the same time. This, he explained, could be implemented directly by the commission and would take significantly less time.

James Withers, chief executive of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland called on the retailers’ to reach an agreement quickly. “This will be the first real test of their much-vaunted corporate and social responsibility credentials,” he said.

Fiona Gooch, senior policy advisor at Traidcraft Exchange called on Taylor to ensure that any ombudsman had a proactive remit to investigate areas of concern.