UK prime minister David Cameron has announced plans to boost the British farming industry by sourcing public sector food locally.
The Conservative PM said from 2017, all of central government will commit to buying fresh, locally-sourced and seasonal food, “so that all food that can be bought locally will be bought locally”.
This was part of a new food and drink buying standard, ‘The Plan for Public Procurement’, which the government said would benefit British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and the British public.
The plan will see the public sector judging potential suppliers by five points:
- How food was produced and whether the food was produced locally
- The health and nutritional content of the food
- 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 SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises)
- The quality of service and value for money
The public sector in England spends £1.2 billion (€1.52bn) a year on food and drink - £600 million (€758m) of which is spent on imported produce, and £400m (€505m) of which the Tory government said could be sourced from within the UK. It said the wider public sector would also be encouraged to use the new plan “with the expectation that all schools and hospitals will, in future, serve more locally reared meats and freshly picked fruit and vegetables”.
It said British farmers would be better placed to access the “lucrative public sector market” under these standards.
Cameron called the initiative a, “triple win”.
“Our long-term economic plan is all about backing the do-ers 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.”
UK environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said the move made environmental sense by helping reduce waste via, “higher take-up of meals and less unappetising food left on plates”.
It said the plan followed a DEFRA-commissioned review by Dr Peter Bonfield, who said the “appetite for change” was there and the procurement plan was the right approach for, “our health, our environment and also British businesses”.
“I want this work to change how every public institution views the food it buys – we have had a great deal of support from schools, hospitals, businesses, caterers, and farmers, all keen to be a part of this exciting new approach.”
Suppliers will be able to register at an online portal, with those meeting the requirements of the scheme’s scorecard being automatically alerted when eligible contracts come up for tender. “They will then be able to apply in just a few clicks,” the government said.
National Farmers Union (NFU) deputy president Minette Batters said the plan was, “a significant step in the right direction” in developing, "a new architecture for public sector procurement that aims to put more British food on public sector plates".
However she added: “Of course saying that more British food is sourced to our standards of production is one thing; to ensure that this happens on the ground, it’s important that public sector buyers and caterers know that they can easily meet the plans aims by simply sourcing food to Red Tractor standards, the widely recognised mark of British food production standards.”