Vote means suppliers are a step nearer to gaining supermarket ombudsman

Growers are one step closer to getting a "guardian" to police the new Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) after dozens of MPs voted in favour of a bill that calls for the appointment of an ombudsman.

Forty four MPs from all of the main political parties have voted in favour of Ynys Mon MP Albert Owen's Private Members' Grocery Market Ombudsman Bill during its second reading in Parliament last week.

The bill needed 36 MPs' votes to reach the next stage of the law-making process - so the positive show of hands it received means that it will go to Parliament's committee stage where its details will be thrashed out.

NFU's head of government affairs Terry Jones told Grower that those who are supporting the bill are hopeful it will be passed quickly - possibly even before the General Election.

Speaking on the eve of last week's second reading at a reception held at the House of Parliament by the Grocery Market Action Group - whose members have tirelessly campaigned for an ombudsman - Jones added that the ombudsman is much needed.

In recent months, he said, the NFU has received an increasing number of distressed calls from producers.

He explained: "There's now a real danger that the risks of retail supply could begin to outweigh the rewards and we will see suppliers throw in the towel.

"We have got half the solution in place with the GSCOP - (it's) an incredibly good start but you cannot play a game without a referee."

He added: "We have recently been able to reflect on 10 years of (ombudsman) negotiations - that's 10 years of a worsening problem with more than 380 concerns raised by suppliers and supplier organisations."

He added that nearly half of the concerns that have been raised related to issues such as retrospective demands.

"Once or twice a month the NFU is contacted by supplier organisations on the receiving end of unfair demands from retailers.

"In February we had some of the worst bullying tactics I have seen. Suppliers are finding themselves in a Catch-22 situation."

Owen, a Labour MP, introduced the bill shortly before Christmas while the Government was still dithering on its response to the Competition Commission (CC)'s recommendation that an ombudsman should be established to investigate any breaches of the new GSCOP.

The GSCOP came into force last month (February) to reduce the abuse of supermarket power in the supply chain.

The CC recommended that the Government sets up an ombudsman after retailers rejected the idea of establishing one voluntarily.

At the start of this year, the Government finally responded to the CC's recommendation by accepting the need for a body to monitor and enforce the Code.

It has therefore started a consultation - which will run until the end of April - to find out who should be the ombudsman and how much power the position should be able to wield.

Jones said: "Although the Government consultation on what the ombudsman should be, look like etc, does not end until the end of April this bill could provide the much-needed enforcement mechanism for the GSCOP at a much earlier opportunity."

MP Albert Owen spoke at last week's reception of his decision to call for the bill. He said: "It was not a vested interest. I am just saying what's right for the suppliers and the producers."

"The message I have sent out to the supermarkets is - no one should live in fear. It's easy for me to take this on at the moment because (unlike producers) I am not taking on the supermarkets."


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