Tacon, whose role came into law on June 25, said she would not investigate all the complaints she was informed about but would use them to decide where the resources of her small team of three or four people with a small budget of £800,000 – funded by a tax on retailers – should be focused.
Speaking at the annual lunch of the Provision Trade Federation in London last month, Tacon attempted to clarify her role, which covers arbitration in complaints between suppliers and retailers, and investigations, which protect the anonymity of complainants.
“It's expected that I'll only do between two and four investigations a year, which gives you an idea that I'm hardly likely to waste one of my four cards to play on one supplier's issue with one retailer,” she warned. “So I will be looking for endemic issues that lots of people are complaining about.”
Tacon accepted that some high-profile cases involving her exercising her powers to fine retailers might be necessary. By December 25 she would publish final guidance on how investigations would be conducted.
But she said: “I will be completely ineffective if I'm not told what's going on.” And while a body of evidence would be required before she would approach supermarket compliance officers requesting that action be taken to stop abuses of power, she added: “If it then happens again, say in six months' time, that is when I will start going down the investigation route.”
‘Within my scope’
Outlining her remit, Tacon said: “Only direct supplies to retailers are within my scope … the Office of Fair Trading wrote the code [Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which came into force in 2010]. I'm only there to adjudicate the code.”
She added: “The sort of thing it covers is almost everything but price … What you've done in your annual negotiations is completely out of scope for me.”
Requests to suppliers from retailers for assistance to meet their targets, fees for listing or for compensation for forecasting errors, were also covered within the code, she said. “Other areas … you can't ask suppliers to fund promotions ‘predominantly’. But what does ‘predominantly’ mean? There are some words there that do need flushing out in due course.”
She also raised the subject of consumer complaints, where some retailers charged while others didn't.