Watchdog ‘like a ref without 
a whistle’

THE new supermarket ombudsman set up to protect the interests of farmers will be “like a referee without a whistle” owing to the Government’s failure to give it the power to issue fines, a Conservative MP has warned.

Tory backbencher Julian Sturdy, the MP for York Outer and a former grower in North Yorkshire, criticised his own party’s “flawed” approach to setting up the new watchdog, due to come into force in 2014.

Despite concern among farmers that the ombudsman will be powerless to influence supermarket chains if it cannot impose fines on those which step out of line, Ministers say it will initially only have the power to “name and shame”.

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Business Secretary Vince Cable will be able to grant the body the power to issue fines at a later date, if he deems it necessary.

But speaking in the Commons, where the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act is currently being debated by MPs, Mr Sturdy said this approach would limit its impact.

“Without adequate teeth, the adjudicator would be like a referee without a whistle,” he said. “We need an adjudicator with the ability to take action.

“The fear with all new regulatory bodies is that they are set up too cautiously, becoming ineffective talking shops, unable to gain influence or authority in the sector.

“To me, the idea of setting up an adjudicator now, before adding powers at a later stage, is frankly flawed. If we are going to do this, we must do it properly and equip the adjudicator with the necessary powers from day one.”