Christine Tacon named as supermarket ombudsman
- 21 January 2013
- From the section Business
Christine Tacon, who ran the Co-operative's farming unit for 11 years, has been named by the government as the first supermarket ombudsman.
The creation of the post was first recommended by the Competition Commission in 2008 to resolve disputes between supermarkets and suppliers.
As "Groceries Code Adjudicator", Ms Tacon will have the power to fine misbehaving supermarkets.
She will hold the post for four years, once a law creating the post is passed.
Ms Tacon will be responsible for policing the "groceries supply code of practice", which was instituted under the last government in 2010 in order to ensure that the 10 biggest supermarket groups - with annual turnover of over £1bn each - did not abuse their relations with their suppliers.
"It's quite a big responsibility, trying to represent the direct suppliers and making sure they've got fair contracts with the retailers," Ms Tacon told the BBC.
The code of conduct came two years after the conclusion of a major two-year review of the supermarkets by the Competition Commission, which criticised the exclusivity arrangement often signed between the supermarket chains and their suppliers.
One of the past practices banned by the code of conduct, according to Ms Tacon, involved supermarkets receiving a payment from a packaging firm in return for forcing their suppliers to use that packaging firm even if it was more expensive.
However, she will not officially take up the watchdog role until the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill is passed by Parliament later this year. In the meantime she will act as "Adjudicator-Designate".
"This is an incredibly important position in the retail groceries sector making sure that large supermarkets treat their suppliers fairly and lawfully," said Consumer and Competition Minister, Jo Swinson.
Ms Tacon will be able to investigate anonymous tip-offs from suppliers.
"It's a reactive role - I have to get complaints before I can get actually involved and do something," she said. "There has been a lot of representation [from suppliers] that, although there is a code of practice, if it is not followed, people are frightened of complaining."
She said that the first stage, if she identifies a malpractice, is to make recommendations as to what supermarkets should do in future.
If a supermarket fails to comply, it can then be named and shamed, and - as a last resort - fined.
Ms Tacon has previously worked for Mars Confectionery, Vodafone and Anchor Foods, and currently holds a number of non-executive positions in the agriculture sector, including chair of the BBC's rural affairs advisory committee.
She will earn £69,000 per year in her new job, working three days a week.