Watchdog bill brings supermarket price fairness a step closer

farmers came a little nearer to being paid fairer prices by supermarkets for the food they produce last week.

A bill to set up a supermarket watchdog was introduced to the UK parliament last Tuesday. If it is passed, an adjudicator would police the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP), which came into force in February 2010, aimed at ensuring fairer supplier-retailer relationships.

NFU Scotland vice-president Allan Bowie said: “The detail of this draft bill will need to be read fully and digested, but this certainly represents another milestone in our long-term goal of ensuring an effective policing body is established to enforce the rules of the code of practice.

“While the code is laudable, it needs an effective body if it is to have a tangible effect.”

The adjudicator would arbitrate between retailers and direct suppliers and investigate breaches of the code based on complaints from suppliers and/or information in the public domain.

Local MPs have cautiously welcomed the move.

Scottish Secretary and Borders MP Michael Moore said: “This legislation is in its early days, but the principle of ensuring a fair and balanced relationship between suppliers and retailers is one I strongly support. Creating an independent body like this would give companies in the Borders that supply grocery retailers security and access to dispute resolution.

“We all depend on the food produced by our farmers and it has been terrible to see so many go to the wall as a result of the practices of supermarkets and food processors.

“It is in everyone’s interest to see farmers in the Borders and Scotland thrive and this bill has the potential to do just that.”

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said: “Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we will have to wait for precise details of how powerful the adjudicator will be.

“As well as being able to investigate suspected breaches of the code of practice, it is important that suppliers are able to report directly to the new body to ensure that the system works for producers, as well as consumers.

“It is disappointing that it has taken this long to get to the point of legislation being presented to parliament, but I hope it will go some way towards ensuring fairness in the food production system.”

The Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesperson, Jim Hume MSP, said: “This bill must have the teeth to make a real and fair change to how things stand. We have to address the imbalance that still exists in the supply chain between producers and retailers in this country and ensure a better deal for suppliers and small businesses.

Mr Bowie added: “What we need to do now is get to the bottom of exactly how much power this adjudicator will have. To police the sector effectively, the adjudicator should be able to proactively seek out anomalies; they shouldn’t have to be presented to him.

“Suppliers must be able to report to the adjudicator confidentially and anonymously, to address the climate of fear that has prevented them doing so previously.”