Landlines: It’s a Victorian state of affairs

Suppliers of supermarkets, eg milk producers, and tenant farmers are not prepared to complain on the record.
Suppliers of supermarkets, eg milk producers, and tenant farmers are not prepared to complain on the record.
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It’s not easy being a whistleblower anywhere, any time. There is evidence of that from football clubs to National Health Service staff to multinational companies.

But the one who puts a head over the parapet to reveal bad practice or criminal intent can’t count on thanks. In too many cases they go on to suffer victimisation, isolation or lose their job.

For farmers there is evidence closer to home or, more accurately, there is ample evidence that suppliers of supermarkets and tenant farmers are not prepared to complain on the record. Some are even afraid to complain off the record, obviously believing that word will get back to supermarket buyers or estate agents that they are dealing with a potential troublemaker.

It’s a Victorian state of affairs for a modern industry that most of us only know about problems between suppliers and supermarkets and some tenants and some estate agents through gossip and anonymous letters to newspapers or anonymous posts on social media.

There is no ready answer. As far as supermarkets squeezing suppliers is concerned I wrote recently that part of the trouble is that ‘watchdog’ agency supposed to oversee good conduct by buyers has no teeth. Complaints about bad treatment don’t get the complainant far and there’s every chance they’ll lose their supply contract. And as supermarkets say repeatedly suppliers can stop dealing with them any time they like. They will soon get others.

The same is true of complaints by some of the tenant farmers who still comprise about one third of all farmers in Britain. Landowners can point to the contradiction that if being a tenant is so awful why is there still massive competition for any kind of tenancy that becomes available?

That doesn’t mean existing tenants of all types have to put up with some of the apparently dictatorial, high-handed treatment they claim they suffer. It does mean there is more to the arguments about tenancies than seems immediately obvious. When the facts of any case are made public, as with the recent bitter revelations by both sides in the Stoddart loss of tenancy and home in East Lothian, there were more shades of grey than the black and white case presented by the public campaign backing the tenant.

Open discussion by both sides on all disputes would be a good thing. As things are with both farm tenancies and supermarket supplies we are unlikely to get that. Victorian? It’s medieval.

A phrase caught my eye in an article on farm accounting that I was skimming recently. It was ‘now managing your finances is quick and pain free.’ If only, I thought, and was persuaded to read the rest to find that the claim was for an accounting system using Cloud-based technology, not a foolproof way of making a profit. The article claimed that using this technology means ‘you are able to keep on top of cash flow, keep track of which customers owe money and which suppliers are due payment … bank reconciliations are automatic.’ That’s all good then and I’m sure the technology being recommended is state of the art, but in my experience knowing who owes money and who is due money doesn’t need much technology. It can usually be gauged accurately by the number of sleepless nights.