christine tacon

The government is to launch an official call for evidence from the industry over its plans to extend the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to cover suppliers and producers.

The Grocer understands the Department for Business (BIS) will issue a set of questions on the possible pros and cons of the move as part of the delayed review of the role of the Adjudicator and her effectiveness in probing the UK’s supermarkets, which had been due to launch in March.

BIS’s plans come after months of pressure from MPs and farmers for the Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, to be given a wider remit. However, sources warned it could still be months until the consultation launches officially because of the huge strategic problems of applying the Groceries Code to such a big new sector. “BIS is going to launch a call for evidence but they are still a long way off thrashing out the detail,” said one source. “There are huge barriers to the idea of extending the role and big questions over how it could possibly work in practice,” added another.

Key questions include whether extending the role would include indirect suppliers and also whether the Adjudicator would be asked to oversee pricing, an area excluded from the existing code. Questions have also been raised over the resources available to the GCA to tackle such a hugely widened remit.

In June, The Grocer revealed the CMA had said it could take years for the adjudicator’s remit to be extended. The CMA warned then widening the adjudicator’s powers would require either a fresh CMA investigation” or “primary legislation” from government.Cameron’s pledge followed a 25-page report into dairy prices by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee which claimed the powers of adjudicator Christine Tacon were “too restricted” to be of assistance to the majority of dairy producers, as they were classed as “indirect suppliers”.

A BIS spokeswoman said: “BIS will be leading the review of the GCA and it will include a public consultation, which any interested party will be able to contribute to. The full details of the review, including the terms of reference and timings, are still under consideration.”