Dismay over delays to retail watchdog

Industry leaders have reacted with dismay to news that the government’s promised supermarket watchdog may not start work for another two years.

Although a Grocery Supply Code of Practice was published last year, a draft Bill to establish a Grocery Code Adjudicator to oversee it is still awaited.

It is now expected that a final Bill will not be agreed until 2012 with appointment to the adjudicator role by mid 2013.

This would be five years after a Competition Commission inquiry recommended that the government take action.

The delay has frustrated industry leaders who have long-campaigned for a watchdog to oversee the relationship between supermarket buyers and farmers.

Looking at the government’s own timetable, draft legislation looked like the most farmers could expect this year, said NFU political adviser Nick von Westenholz.

“It’s seriously disappointing that one year on from the formation of the coalition – involving two parties who both support the creation of an adjudicator – we are still so far away from seeing one up and running.”

He added: “The government really must get its act together and get the adjudicator into law this year, so we can end the absurd situation of having rules without a referee to enforce them.”

Food manufacturers have also voiced their dismay. The Food and Drink Federation said it feared the delay could damage consumer welfare. “Currently, we have a rule book [in the code of practice], but no referee,” said Terry Jones, the federation’s director of communications.

“The Competition Commission findings are clear: unless the abuse of market power is addressed then businesses, especially small and medium-sized manufacturers will be less inclined to innovate and invest.

“In turn, this will lead to a reduction in choice and availability. Consumers will be ultimate losers unless government takes action.”

Earlier this month, farm minister Jim Paice told Farmers Weekly he anticipated that the draft legislation for the adjudicator would be published “very soon”.

He added: “I have seen some of the early drafts so we know it is in process and, yes, we are still committed to do it as soon as we can.”

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