At the recent keynote seminar for the influential Westminster Food Forum, Christine Tacon was invited to consider her next steps and priorities for her office as the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA). With her full powers to fine up to 1% of turnover due to be made law in April, the eighteen months since she started the job have given her a good insight into where to direct her now considerable powers. She has been working with the newly appointed compliance officers from the ten retailers with more than a billion pound turnover which her post covers and considers that a change of culture is in evidence. In particular she cites training of buyers on the retail side to know what is in the code and better trained suppliers allowing them to ask the question “are you really allowed to ask for this?” As Christine says, “the old answer to bullying in the playground was to stand up to the bullies. Now that answer is not acceptable and you go straight to the code.” Christine’s advice to suppliers is to make sure they are fully trained in what the code offers.
So far the role of GCA can be divided into arbitration where she has had successful outcomes but these are confidential by their nature and investigation of breaches of the code of which currently there are two. Christine is keen to emphasise the confidentiality of her post as a survey last year had shown that 58% of suppliers feared retribution. “I do need the evidence, please tell me, anecdotes are fine but I need evidence.” Her five key issues so far are dealing with the effects of forensic accounting, discrepancies over delivered products ‘drop and drive’ problems, disputes over forecasting, service levels unreasonable requests and demands for funding packaging and design costs.
As the only farmer present at the forum, Lincolnshire vegetable grower Mark Tinsley said that in his experience, “I think the situation is less collaborative now than in all the last 44 years; Christine is doing an excellent job but she needs more powers to be able to go into businesses in all levels of the supply chain. Her role needs extending; it’s a big job to tackle changing the culture in all these businesses.”