Grocery misconduct: a lesson in buck-passing

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The Independent Online

Annual reports tend to be padded out with lots of self-serving rubbish and legalese before they get to all-important financial figures. But sometimes you can find the odd gem buried in their bowels. Consider, if you will, the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Its annual report didn’t use the word “oops” anywhere – that’s just not the done thing – but it probably should have.

The GCA was set up to police the way supermarkets treat their suppliers, amid concerns that the relationship had become unequal at best, and downright exploitative at worst. One of the biggest bugbears of those suppliers is securing timely payment.

Now, you can probably guess where this is going. The GCA said that in line with best practice, it processed and approved its invoices within 30 days of receipt over the past year, and 100 per cent of undisputed ones within just five days.

Unfortunately, while those invoices might have been processed promptly, the GCA was forced to admit that it couldn’t be entirely sure they were paid promptly.

To explain this, it fell back on a tried-and-tested practice. It passed the buck. The watchdog said it outsourced payment to the Competition & Markets Authority.

Unfortunately, the latter had installed a new system, which did what new systems are prone to do. It created the odd hiccup.

The problem for the GCA is this: if the supermarkets become aware, they might just consider pointing to the example of the GCA to justify blaming new systems and outsourcing of their own for tardy payment.