christine tacon

Christine Tacon has agreed to remain Groceries Code Adjudicator for one more year

Supermarkets have made “dramatic” improvements in behaviour since the appointment of Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon, say suppliers.

The findings of the latest poll of suppliers’ views, published by the GCA, shows the percentage experiencing potential breaches of the code has plummeted by nearly a third compared with 2014.

Today’s report revealed a “step change” in behaviour by Morrisons, which had been rock bottom of the league table of GCA behaviour but has now overtaken Asda, the Co-op and Iceland in the table.

For the fourth year running, Aldi topped the table and there was an overwhelming verdict from suppliers that Tesco was continuing to improve its behaviour. Despite the big overall improvements, Iceland propped up the new table with nearly 20% of suppliers claiming it rarely complied with the Code.

Adjudicator Tacon said the report, which saw a record number of suppliers participate, showed huge progress across the key areas that have been prioritised by the GCA.

However, doubt has been cast over the long-term future of Tacon in the role.

The Adjudicator revealed she had agreed to stay on for another year, following the delayed Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) statutory review of the post.

But sources suggest Tacon is likely to quit the role if BEIS decides, in a separate ongoing review, to extend the GCA’s remit to cover indirect suppliers.

Such an extension was floated by former PM David Cameron and is backed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but the idea has been a source of huge division in the food and drink industry.

Tacon, whose four-year initial appointment ran out today, said the short-term temporary appointment would give her time to decide if she wanted to stay on, having already spoken out against plans for the extended remit.

“This allows both me and BEIS ministers to consider whether I am the right person for the role if the call for evidence leads to significant change to the GCA,” she said.

Tacon also expressed frustration that her office was already finding trouble getting adequate support from government, especially with the drain of resources because of Brexit.

In her annual report she said: “I remain concerned at the difficulty in recruiting from the public sector at a time when the civil service has additional challenges with Brexit on top of the usual workload.

“Two-year secondments are not good for continuity and staff changes are a significant distraction in a small team.”

Tacon said today that the latest survey results, from 1,220 suppliers, showed the big steps supermarkets had made since her appointment to improve their behaviour towards suppliers.

For the fourth year running, fewer of direct suppliers said they had experienced one or more Code-related issues in the past year, down to 56% from 62% in 2016 and from the high of 79% in 2014.

Tacon said: “The overall fall is welcome but the more dramatic data comes from looking at supplier experience of issues that I have identified among my top five and where I have used collaborative or more formal regulatory action to drive change.”

Tacon heaped praise on the turnaround in behaviour by Morrisons, following a “step change in its engagement with suppliers.”

Meanwhile Tony Baines, managing director of buying at Aldi, said: “We are incredibly proud to have topped the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s annual survey for the fourth consecutive year.

“We recognise that pressure on supply chains is increasing across the retail sector, but our approach will not change. We will continue to build long-term relationships with suppliers that are fair, sustainable and predictable.”

Progress on GCA’s top five priorities:

• Forensic auditing: 45% of suppliers reported experiencing this as an issue in 2014 but only 12% in 2017

• Margin maintenance: In 2017, only 10% of suppliers have reported this as an issue, down from 36% in 2014

• Consumer complaints: In 2014 unjustified charges for consumer complaints was the second-biggest issue, with 37% of suppliers reporting it. In 2017, only 12% of suppliers have reported it as an issue

• Packaging and design charges: Following action from the Adjudicator, only 11% have reported concerns with packaging charges this year, compared with 24% in 2014 and 30% in 2015