Legislation delay over grocery adjudicator means no ombudsman in place until 2013

Growers say they are not surprised that the Government plans to wait until next spring before legislating for the grocery adjudicator, conceding that tackling issues such as food inflation was seen as more pressing.

Full for grocery sector adjudicator has been delayed - image: HW
Full for grocery sector adjudicator has been delayed - image: HW

Business minister Ed Davey admitted earlier this month during a Commons debate that because of the Government's busy schedule a formal full bill for the adjudicator - or ombudsman - was unlikely to be introduced until the second session of Parliament, which begins in May 2012.

As a result, farmers and growers are unlikely to see an adjudicator up and running until 2013 at the earliest. This is some three years after the Grocery Supply Code of Practice, which the bill is supposed to be enforcing, came into effect.

Davey denied suggestions during the Commons debate that the Government's interest in a grocery adjudicator was wavering. He insisted that the process could be brought forward "if parliamentary time allows". A draft bill will be published soon after Easter, he pledged.

THE NFU'S RESPONSE CALL FOR ACTION

The NFU is calling on the Government to bring forward legislation to the current session so that an adjudicator will be operational as soon as possible.

Vice-president Gwyn Jones said: "Once again it seems that positive words from the Government about the need for an adjudicator are not being matched by actions.

"We weren't convinced about the need for a draft bill when the coalition announced its plans for an adjudicator last year. Now it seems the draft bill will not be introduced before Easter, and the proper legislation not until well into 2012.

"Meanwhile, farmers will continue to suffer from the transfer of excessive risk and unexpected costs by grocery retailers along the supply chain, as identified by the Competition Commission in its 2008 report.

"We will continue to witness the adverse effect on investment and innovation down the supply chain, and ultimately the impact this has on consumers."

WHAT THE GROWERS SAY

Essex pea grower Guy Smith said he was not surprised that the Government did not see the ombudsman as a top priority. "It has issues of greater electoral significance," he added. "The Government's concern is that it does not want to mess with food inflation in any way. The multiples are also major lobbyists. But we do have constant promises from the likes of Jim Paice that the regulator will be brought in."

Lincolnshire-based leek grower Mervyn Casey said: "I always thought that we would be lucky if it happened straight away knowing how politicians backtrack. "What does the Government much harm is food inflation, which is one of the biggest issues. But supermarkets will have to pay growers more because, after the harsh winter, some people are giving up. At the moment our business is losing money."

Lincolnshire-based onion grower Robert Oldershaw added: "I think it's understandable that it's not at the top of the list for the Government. I would also find it difficult to suggest that growers do not get treated fairly by supermarkets because suppliers are often as much to blame for poor returns as the retailers themselves. It's an extremely competitive industry and growers want to increase their business and so someone always undercuts the next man. Although there have been instances over the past decade where an ombudsman would have helped, I am a little sceptical that anyone would realistically be able to remain anonymous."


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