Speaking at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum in London last month (March), Tacon said: “I have all sorts of powers and I’ve been getting comments from suppliers who are saying things are getting better because of me.”
But her critics claimed Tacon was destined to fail, given the constraints she faced when appointed.
Duncan Swift, head of the food advisory group at accounting and business advisory firm Moore Stephens, said the GCA had too few legal sanctions, had too small a budget and no power to independently initiate investigations.
Furthermore, Swift claimed what few powers the GCA had were of little use unless steps were taken to address the complaints process to prevent suppliers from being identified and victimised.
Tacon, appointed to her role in January 2013, has rejected such remarks and responded that suppliers would remain anonymous in most cases. However, she conceded that if, for example, only two companies were supplying a product to a retailer, it would be difficult to retain their anonymity.
As for her powers, Tacon, who launched an investigation into Tesco following evidence from three main sources about delayed payments, said: “I can make binding recommendations against a company; I can name and shame them; and I can take them to arbitration.”
Although she also now could fine retailers 1% of their turnover if found to be in breach of the GSCOP, this would not apply to Tesco since its investigation began before Tacon was granted her powers to fine in January.
“I’ve got all sorts of other powers too,” she said. “I can [during an investigation] require information from retailers and suppliers, even if they haven’t given it to me.” She also has the power to broaden an investigation to include other retailers if they are subsequently found to be involved, she added.
“The investigation [into Tesco] is in its early stages at the moment and we’re still accepting evidence about it from suppliers until April 3,” Tacon said. “But, if another retailer was found to be involved, I would have no problem broadening that investigation.”