Farm groups have expressed their anger at a Government decision to appoint a new Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) in a part-time capacity.
Abi Kay and Olivia Midgley report.
The current post-holder, Christine Tacon, only works up to three days a week, but food and farming alliance Sustain said it was ‘totally inappropriate’ for her successor to continue on the same basis.
Ms Tacon will step down at the end of her current term in June 2020.
At the moment, the GCA regulates the relationship between direct suppliers and the 13 biggest retailers in the UK – up from 10 – but the NFU and others have called for this remit to be extended to the wider supply chain.
MPs had also raised concerns that under the terms of the now-fallen Agriculture Bill, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) was given responsibility for policing breaches of contracts between farmers and first purchasers such as processors and abattoirs, insisting the GCA would be better placed to take on this role.
Vicki Hird, sustainable farming campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, said: “We are very disappointed to see this is a two-to-three day a week role.
“We know Christine Tacon said limited hours limited her ability to get things done, and this role delivers extremely high value for money if it successfully tackles unfair trading practices.
“There are now 13 designated retailers, so it is a bigger job, and the legal structure of the GCA means the Adjudicator themselves needs to sign off everything, which is why investigations have taken so long.
“It is extremely frustrating that the opportunity to make the role closer to a full-time one has not been taken at the time of reappointment, and we are asking why. Our farmers deserve better.”
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA), added: “This shows poor ambition by the Government and a lack of understanding of the importance of supply chain issues as we step into new economic and political environments post-Brexit.
“We need the Adjudicator to be a full-time role with sufficient resource to fulfil what we believe will be an increasingly important function.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was unable to comment due to election rules.
Speaking at the NFU’s General Election manifesto launch on Tuesday, union president Minette Batters warned ensuring supply chain fairness had to be a ‘prerequisite of stepping back from direct support’.
“Every farmer and grower I speak to is struggling to not have a lower contract that the previous year,” she said.
“We are under enormous pressure and that is unsustainable economically and unsustainable in the long run.”