British farmers, small businesses, the rural economy and the public are set to benefit from a new £400m government plan to drive more locally sourced food and drink into the public sector.
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron and Defra secretary Liz Truss unveiled the initiative, A Plan for Public Procurement, on the opening day of the Royal Welsh Show in Powys, on Monday (21 July).
Cameron 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".
Each year, the public sector, including schools, hospitals, care homes and the armed forces - spends £1.2bn on food and drink in England. Up to £600m of that is spent on imported produce, of which £400m could be sourced from within the UK.
The commitment from central government to use this new "simplified" buying standard means that just over half of the £400m 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.
The plan has been published following Dr Peter Bonfield's Review into public produce procurement, which was commissioned by Defra last year.
It also follows a successful Farmers Weekly campaign – Get Better, Get British – last year, which established the government could be doing much more to source local food in our hospitals. The campaign found that some hospitals were sourcing as little as 40% of their food locally.
Cameron, who is the first serving prime minister to visit the show, said: "Our long-term economic plan is all about backing the doers and the hard-workers – and no one does more or works as hard in Britain today than 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. It's a triple win – and will mean a brighter future for our country".
Truss added: "This move will mean that food served in canteens across the public sector can be more local, seasonal and tastier.
"It will help drive growth in Britain's first class food and drink industry and benefit the environment through reduced waste, higher take-up of meals and less unappetising food left on plates.
"This is a huge boost to British farmers and producers and for students, patients and employees who want to enjoy fantastic food."
Public sector buyers will now judge potential suppliers against five key criteria:
- How food is produced and whether the food was produced locally
- The health and nutritional content of food purchased
- The resource efficiency of producing the food, such as water and energy use and waste production
- How far the food bought meets government's socio-economic priorities such as involvement of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Quality of service and value for money
Defra said British farmers were "expected to benefit significantly" from the plan because they 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, centred around a new website.
Companies which register on this site and meet the requirements of the plan's scorecard will automatically be alerted when eligible contracts come up for tender. They will then be able to apply in just a few clicks.
The NFU described the plan as a "significant step in the right direction" to government backing British farming.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: "We applaud the work that Dr Peter Bonfield has done to develop a new architecture for public sector procurement that aims to put more British food on public sector plates.
"That aim, to grow the amount of locally sourced food and drink, chimes with our own wider aspiration of growing the British farming industry.
"I really look forward to working with the new secretary of state not only on this procurement plan but also how we build a strategic plan for growing British agriculture."
Source: Philip Case, Farmers Weekly