GSCOP – Compliance, Collaboration and Confusion

Reflecting on the GCA Annual Survey 2020

Christine Tacon, Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) will bow gracefully out of her role at the end of this year. Leaving on the back of an impressive set of statistics from the latest GCA Annual Survey (2020), published by YouGov earlier this week.

A Subtle Approach

Her much (self) vaunted ‘collaborative’ approach has taken what, to say the least, was a flimsy, full of get-outs and generally weak piece of legislation, GSCOP, and made it a workable, robust and implementable tool for enabling positive change in the commercial habits of designated retailers.
Rather than give the Code ‘teeth’ with an aggressive, legalistic approach she has very successfully taken the more subtle ‘work with me, not against me ‘ approach. She worked with both suppliers and retailers and, consequently, delivered real positive change for the UK grocery supply base.

Headline Results from the GCA Annual Survey 2020

The results are indeed impressive and a testament to her foresightedness, energy, passion and resilience. The following are perhaps the standout headlines from the GCA Annual Survey 2020:

  • An overall 85% awareness of the Code amongst suppliers.
  • An 80%+ compliance to the Code from designated retailers (with all but 3 of the 13 achieving over 90% compliance).
  • Only 36% of suppliers saying they experienced any Code related issues at all (down 5% year on year).
GCA Annual Survey 2020, showing UK supermarkets and their score with the year

GCA Annual Survey 2020, GSCOP Compliance

Opportunities For Action

However, within the numbers, there are perhaps more causes for concern. Or, better put, opportunities for action for whoever should follow on as Groceries Code Adjudicator at the end of this year.
The written supply agreement between the designated retailer and supplier is at the very heart of the Code. To the extent, it is a formal legal requirement that:

‘A Designated Retailer must not enter into a Supply Agreement with a Supplier unless the Supplier has a written copy of the Supply Agreement and of all terms and conditions which are intended by the Retailer and the Supplier to be incorporated.’
(The Groceries (Supply Chain Practices) Market Investigation Order 2009).

Graph of UK supermarkets showing the percentage of those that have written agreements with suppliers

Which UK supermarkets have a written supply agreements with retailers?

However, 7 years and 7 YouGov administered supplier surveys on and only 46% of suppliers say they have a written supply agreement with their designated retailer. Furthermore, that’s one percentage point down year on year!
So how can there be such wonderfully high levels of compliance to the Code and only 36% of suppliers saying they experienced any issues with the Code? Particularly when over half don’t have a written supply agreement!!

A Lack of Clarity

Unfortunately, ……and this is the problem………. the Code does not clearly and unambiguously set out what constitutes a written supply agreement.
In almost all other areas of government, there is a standard form. Be it a P45 a P60, a V11 a V5C etc. ad infinitum. Because, as we know the government, and especially the civil service, love forms!
As far as the Code is concerned there are some standard things that retailers must provide to suppliers as information ahead of creating a written supply agreement. For example:

  • Contact details of senior buyers.
  • Code compliance officers.
  • The adjudicator.
  • Details of delisting processes and complaints.
  • Feedback and dispute handling procedures.
Two graphs answering the question have you received any training on the Code?

Have you received any training on the Code?

But nothing is clear and specific as to what then a Code Compliant Written Supply Agreement should look like. It would make a great form designation – a CCWSA1……!!
So unsurprisingly suppliers are confused as to whether they indeed have a formal written supply agreement with their designated retailers. Undoubtedly they probably all do. They just don’t realise that their formal written supply agreement is probably the last terms or JBP document they signed. Or, even the standard terms and conditions of trading that almost all the designated retailers have hidden away somewhere on their websites or supplier portals.

A Lack of Training

Perhaps the real problem lies with us, the training industry. In the 2020 GCA Annual Survey, now 7 whole years on, only 47% of suppliers say they have had formal training in the Code. Perhaps, it’s not unsurprising that suppliers are not clear on the Code and the importance of the protections that a properly worded written supply agreement can give them.
So rather than cast stones outward, perhaps we as trainers should look inwards and pull our fingers out!

For further tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to GSCOP and our GSCOP YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog to see more tips and articles.

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