Blog: Dean BestWill it be 2013 before we see UK grocery ombudsman?

Dean Best | 10 May 2011

An ombudsman to intervene in disputes between UK supermarkets and suppliers is something that parts of the industry have long demanded - but, according to the latest estimates, it could be another two years before one is introduced.

A report in The Independent yesterday said that UK government ministers are set to publish a draft bill outlining the potential powers of the ombudsman later this month.

However, the report claimed that the UK's legislative timetable means that the ombudsman - or, to use the official title, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, is unlikely to be active before the summer of 2013.

An ombudsman was proposed by the UK's Competition Commission in 2008 and, in the run-up to last year's General Election, all three major political parties backed its creation - despite criticism from retailers.

The ombudsman would, in theory, oversee the existing Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP), which was launched last year after advice from the Competition Commission and replaced a set of guidelines that dated back to 2000.

The UK's Food and Drink Federation said manufacturers had "reacted with concern" to the latest estimates that it could be two years before the ombudsman is formally created. The FDF also argued that any delay could "damage consumer welfare".

Director of communications Terry Jones said: "Currently we have a rule book in the GSCOP but no referee. The Competition Commission findings were clear that 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."

On the other side of the fence, UK retailers insist that the code is working and a referee is not needed.

"The Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which has been in existence for more than a year, has not had a single dispute between stores and suppliers go to independent arbitration that we're aware of," said British Retail Consortium food director Andrew Opie. "A fair system for suppliers already exists. This begs the question – what will a grocery code adjudicator do all day?"

Opie added: "Retailers' focus is on consumers and our major concern is that an adjudicator will add to upward pressure on prices. Any system of regulation and monitoring comes with costs and the current climate makes it more important than ever that these are avoided."


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