christine tacon

Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon could see her remit extended signficantly following the review

The government said today it could look to extend the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, even if the competition authorities decide there is insufficient evidence for intervention.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy kicked off a statutory review of Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s role this morning. It also launched a call for evidence on the case for her powers to be extended following concerns raised by producers and farmers.

Businesses have until 10 January to make their views known, with business minister Margot James saying she wanted to ensure businesses across the supply chain got a “fair deal”.

However, experts have warned it could take months or even years for the government to extend the Adjudicator’s remit, even if it does decide to go ahead. The government warned it would only act if it found “robust” evidence that justified the case for regulation.

Today, The Grocer revealed ministers were considering an alternative extension to the GCA’s powers, which would see the body take on policing of further retailers, wholesalers and foodservice companies. This would be instead of its powers being extended to tackle farming issues, which some, including Tacon, argue fall well outside the intended remit of the GCA.

The government said at the end of the call for evidence it would report any concerns over competition to the Competition & Markets Authority, which could decide to launch a new investigation into alleged unfair practices and the need for greater protection by extension of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.

“It might be possible for the CMA to amend the Code, and thereby the GCA’s remit,” BEIS said, “Alternatively, the government can propose legislation to parliament to extend the GCA’s remit. For the government to consider this, we would first need to justify regulatory intervention and the net beneficial outcomes it would secure. This requires a robust evidence base and a thorough examination of alternative options.”

James said: “It is important that suppliers of all sizes get a fair deal when working with supermarkets. The Groceries Code Adjudicator is making a significant impact, with suppliers reporting that nine out of the 10 retailers covered have improved their compliance with the Code over the past year.

“We are also looking at evidence for extending the GCA’s remit in recognition of concerns raised by other suppliers in the grocery sector - particularly primary producers and farmers - who are not covered by the Code. Government wants to do all it can to help these businesses and we look forward to hearing their views and those from across the sector.”

Farming minister George Eustice added: “While having a positive impact on the relationship between producers and suppliers, there has been lots of discussion about what more the GCA can do to support our farmers who are so often at the end of the chain and want more support in their negotiations with supermarkets and other companies. Through this consultation, all those that want to see the GCA’s role extended have the chance to make their case and provide their evidence. I encourage farmers to have their say.”