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Supermarket watchdog 'to be appointed by end of year'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 17, 2012

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London Editor

A long-awaited watchdog to protect farmers from the bully boy tactics of supermarkets will finally take up the post early next year – with a "shadow adjudicator" in place before that.

An industry adjudicator was mooted as long ago as 2001, when the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair argued supermarkets had farmers in an "armlock".

The most frequent complaints from farmers include supermarkets demanding one-off payments from suppliers to guarantee future business and forcing them to sell produce on two-for-one discounts.

In 2010, the Government introduced a code of practice to crack down on the sharp practices deployed by the then retailers with an annual turnover of more than £1 billion, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's. But the code has been described as "a game of rugby without a referee" as it has lacked an overseer all this time.

Ministers now expect to appoint the Grocery Codes Adjudicator (GCA) by the end of this year, even though the Bill to establish the supermarket watchdog is still making its way through Parliament.

The GCA Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons today. With cross-party support in place for the Bill, the legislative process is expected to be completed in the early months of 2013.

The adjudicator "should be up and running by the middle of next year", according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

But BIS is keen to have a "shadow adjudicator" in place before the new body is formally established to enable it to hit the ground running.

In response to a recent Parliamentary Question, junior business minister Jo Swinson revealed the recruitment process was well under way. She said a job advertisement was placed in August and "candidates have been shortlisted and interviews are ongoing".

An accompanying recruitment document says it is "intended that the Groceries Code Adjudicator will take up their post in the first quarter of 2013". A BIS spokesman said: "We hope to announce who has been appointed before the end of the year."

The adjudicator will spend their first few months in the role drawing up the watchdog's guidelines before they start investigating retailers alleged to have breached the code.

They will have a maximum of six months to do this from when the legislation is in place.

Some MPs believe the adjudicator should be granted powers to fine retailers for serious breaches of the code from day one.

As the Bill stands, these powers would have to be added at a later date under new legislation.

National Farmers' Union head of government affairs, Nick von Westenholz, said: "We want to see an adjudicator having the appropriate enforcement power, and that includes the ability to fine retailers from day one if they are in serious breach of the code."

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