Up to four major investigations into the way big retailers treat their suppliers are expected to be conducted annually by Britain’s first supermarket ombudsman.
In her first interview since being appointed groceries code adjudicator earlier this week, Christine Tacon told Farmers Weekly her remit included ensuring fairness for everyone in the food chain that supplied supermarkets – not just farmers.
“I expect the job to involve more arbitration than investigation,” said Ms Tacon. “I expect there will be between two and four investigations each year. Investigating won’t be something I am doing every week, but arbitration I expect I will be doing quite a bit.”
The long-awaited appointment was announced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on Monday (21 January). The job includes enforcing the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which sets minimum standards in the way big retailers treat their suppliers.
Confirmation of the adjudicator role is subject to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill receiving Royal Assent (expected to be the spring). It is a four-year appointment.
Salary for the job is £115,000 pro-rata for a three-day week, which will equate to £69,000 a year. From now until the bill comes into force, Ms Tacon will work one day a week (equating to £23,000 a year) to meet stakeholders and establish her office.
Ms Tacon ran the Co-operative Farms business for 11 years. Before this she worked for Vodafone and Mars Confectionery.
Ms Tacon will investigate alleged breaches of the code, which applies to all retailers with a turnover of more than £1bn in groceries in the UK. Her powers include the ability to fine retailers found guilty of breaching the code – as well as naming and shaming.
Previously, Ms Tacon spent 11 years as managing director at Co-operative Farms – Britain’s biggest farming business. During her time at the £60m business, she turned a £6m annual loss into a £6m annual profit.
Ms Tacon dismissed suggestions her CV meant she was too close to the farming community. “Having been a farmer, and knowing what goes on, I don’t think they are going to find it easy to pull the wool over my eyes. Having the experience will be a help rather than a hindrance.”
NFU president Peter Kendall said he was optimistic that the adjudicator would start to roll back abuses of power within the food supply chain. “There are all sorts of pressures in the supply chain and we need to make sure that those pressures do not put undue burdens on farmers,” he said.
Read our full interview with Christine Tacon.