The Prime Minister has announced that from 2017, all of central government will commit to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food, so that all food that can be bought locally will be bought locally. This will be done through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard.
The new buying standard called The Plan for Public Procurement should benefit thousands of British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and the British public. It means £400 million of potential new business for the British food industry.
The public sector in England spends £1.2 billion every year on food and drink. Up to £600 million of that is spent on imported produce, £400 million of which could be sourced from within the UK. The commitment from central government to use this new buying standard, means that just over half of the £400 million will be up for grabs by British farmers. In addition, the wider public sector will be encouraged and supported in using the new framework with the expectation that all schools and hospitals will, in future, serve more locally reared meats and freshly picked fruit and vegetables.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said, “Our long-term economic plan is all about backing the hard-workers. At the top of that list in Britain today is our farmers. By opening up these contracts, we can help them create more jobs, invest in their businesses and make sure people in our country have a healthier lifestyle.”
Public sector buyers will now judge potential suppliers against five key criteria. How food is produced and whether the food was produced locally and the health and nutritional content of food purchased. Including, the resource efficiency of producing the food, such as water and energy use and waste production. In addition, how far the food bought meets government’s socio-economic priorities such as involvement of SMEs and the quality and price of the different products on offer. British farmers are expected to benefit significantly from the plan because British farmers are best placed to meet these tough new standards. In addition to backing local and sustainable food, the new standards prioritise procurement from smaller producers, thereby helping SMEs gain access to the lucrative public sector market.
To support these small businesses further, government will also put in place a new buying process from September, centered around an online portal. Companies that register on this portal and meet the requirements of the plan’s scorecard will automatically be alerted when any eligible contracts come up for tender. The public sector spends about £2.4bn per annum procuring food and catering services, which represents approximately 5.5% of UK food service sector sales. This money is spent feeding people in our schools, hospitals, armed forces, central and local government, government agencies, prisons and courts, and significantly affects their health, wellbeing, and habits.
In addition, it provides substantial revenue to the UK food and farming sector, which together employ around 3 million people in the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, making an important contribution to the financial success and health of the rural economy. The public sector is estimated to spend about £0.6bn on imported produce. Effective public procurement can deliver a range of benefits: it supports a thriving local economy, and supplies quality nutritious food for its customers. It can lead by example, magnifying its impact.
It is capable of delivering a range of goals, one of which is the supporting farmers and food producers and rightly rewarding them for operating to high animal welfare and production standards. Furthermore, building training opportunities into contracts, to ensure a well-skilled food and farming sector for the future.
One area where it makes a contribution is tackling health issues by enabling people to eat well across the public sector, including in our hospitals, and contributing to wider societal wellbeing. It also helps school children to value their food by knowing where their food comes from, and how to cook healthy meals.
What alternative ways could assist the UK to become more self-sufficient with its food?