On or around 25 June 2013, the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) will, finally, have statutory powers to enforce the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP).

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced on 25 April 2013 that the GCA Bill had been granted Royal Assent. It means that both Houses of Parliament have now ratified the Bill and it can become law. For the first time, the UK will have an independent adjudicator to oversee the relationship between the ten largest supermarkets and their direct suppliers.

Since the introduction of GSCOP in 2010, suppliers and trade associations have regularly complained that without an independent adjudicator, GSCOP offers them little protection. It is therefore anticipated that the GCA will give some bite to GSCOP and have a wide remit to enforce the Code, including powers to:

  • arbitrate disputes between retailers and suppliers;
  • investigate confidential complaints from third parties, direct and indirect suppliers; and
  • 'name and shame' as well as, ultimately, fine those retailers who breach GSCOP.

It will now be interesting to see what the Adjudicator-Designate (Christine Tacon) proposes as a maximum level of fine and how the Government takes that recommendation into account when setting the thresholds.

In July or August, we can expect to see guidance issued by the Adjudicator for consultation, setting out exactly how she plans to operate. There will then be a response to that consultation and final guidance issued by Christmas day (six months from commencement).

Finally, in the run up to the GCA becoming law in June, we shall issue a handy guidance note to summarise GSCOP and the powers of the GCA.