A powerful “supermarket watchdog” will be established by Labour to prevent big retailers from bullying their suppliers, as the party positions itself as the champion of farmers and consumers.
The new regulator would be built out of the current Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), which is widely seen as “toothless”, Maria Eagle, the shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told The Independent.
The watchdog will be better equipped to stop the major grocers from squeezing their suppliers because it will be allowed to launch its own investigations into any contract where it suspects abuse of power through late payments, last-minute deductions and other forms of malpractice, Ms Eagle said.
The new-look watchdog will also be able to consider the impact of behaviour of the 10 biggest supermarkets on the entire supply chain.
“We need a tough supermarket watchdog to make sure the big supermarkets don’t exploit their farmers and producers. But the GCA has a very narrow remit so it can only focus on their direct suppliers and can’t deal with the supply chain,” Ms Eagle said.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
“It can’t do investigations so people have to come to it – and of course if you’re being beaten over the head with a big stick by the only outfit that buys your product you don’t necessarily complain about it because you’re worried about what the implications are for your business,” she added. “We’re going to expand its role and powers and create a tough supermarket watchdog that can deliver a much fairer deal to our farmers and those who supply these big retailers.”
Ms Eagle stressed that she was not criticising the GCA head Christine Tacon “in any way” but rather her powers and remit.
The need for a tough regulator is particularly apparent in the UK milk industry, she said, where 10,000 dairy farmers, or half of the total, have gone out of business in the past decade as supermarkets force them to keep cutting their prices.
Most of the milk sold in supermarkets is supplied directly by the processors, which in some cases are supplied by hundreds of local dairy farmers. The supermarkets squeeze the processors, which pass the cost cuts on to the farmers – who have no recourse because, as an indirect supplier to the supermarket, they are not represented by the GCA, Ms Eagle said.
Labour’s pledge comes a day after the Government rejected a call from MPs to extend the remit of the GCA to provide better protection for dairy farmers.
The Government has recently granted the GCA the power to fine supermarkets up to 1 per cent of their annual sales for any misconduct it uncovers from next month. Ms Eagle welcomes the change but questions whether 1 per cent is enough and says she will look into increasing it if Labour is elected.
The National Farmers’ Union was encouraged by Labour’s pledge.
“The NFU welcomes the notion to extend the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator back to farmers. We have long called for fairness in supply chains and believe this is key to the future prosperity of the agri-food sector,” a spokesman said.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, added: “I welcome Labour’s commitment. It’s a sign that, at last, politicians see the vital importance of the UK food system and of the limitation of blind faith in the market.”
Ms Tacon told peers in the House of Lords this month that her watchdog had found it “difficult to get suppliers to come forward” with evidence of breaches of the industry code of practice.
Her comments backed up a YouGov survey last year, which found that 58 per cent of suppliers feared retribution from big supermarkets.
Last month the GCA launched its first and only investigation – into Tesco. The probe comes in response to allegations that it was unfairly fining suppliers, docking cash from bills without agreement and demanding money from suppliers for better shelf-positioning in its 3,300 stores.
Tesco says it has taken action to strengthen compliance, is changing the way it works with suppliers and will continue to co-operate fully with the GCA in its nine-month investigation.Reuse content