Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) Christine Tacon has announced that she is to step down next year after seven years in the role.
Mrs Tacon made the announcement at the 2019 GCA conference in London on Monday, where she was challenged by NPA chief executive Zoe Davies on her reluctance to extend the GCA’s remit.
Mrs Tacon will be replaced in the role, but her suggestion that she is looking to encourage more of a self-regulatory approach within the retail sector prior to her departure has raised eyebrows.
Mrs Tacon said she was committed in her final year to working with each of the 12 large retailers to ensure all their practices, systems and behaviours are designed and structured to meet their obligations under the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.
“I am introducing a common factors approach to guide their compliance risk management activity,” she said. “However they are set up I want to see the retailers build for themselves a whole-organisation approach to Code compliance.
Mrs Tacon published the results of her annual survey, which suggested continuing improvement in retailer behaviour. For the second year running only four out of ten suppliers reported having experienced an issue at any point in the year.
The Co-operative Group Limited topped the table as the biggest improver after significant scrutiny from the GCA following a year-long investigation which found that the retailer had breached the Code.
Mrs Tacon made it clear she is not keen for the role of the GCA to be extended, for example to bring in processors, despite widespread calls for the move from within the farming industry, including NPA.
She said: “I am clear in my own mind that it would mean significant change in the way the work of the GCA is done. The levy funding model would have to be altered, so a few large retailers were not paying for the GCA to regulate arrangements over which they had no direct control.
“The collaborative approach I have established would not have been possible with a much larger cohort of regulated businesses, or if my job were to champion individual supplier issues or causes.”
Dr Davies asked Mrs Tacon: “Who will look after the primary producer if not the CGA, as these people, many of which were small family businesses, not trained negotiators and really needed their help.”
Mrs Tacon said producers would need to wait for the Agriculture Bill for answers on this issue.
Afterwards, Zoe said: “Whilst it was not a particularly satisfactory response it was expected. I asked it so that those attending would hear and understand the issues to be addressed and had some very interesting discussions with several companies, including competition lawyers afterwards.
“We will continue to push forward with this point, particularly in light of the current frustrations being experienced in the pig supply chain.”
“Mrs Tacon has done a good job as GCA but we hope her replacement will think more flexibly and see the benefits of extending the remit further up the supply chain to protect the thousands of producers who do not supply retailers directly.”