Government commits to buying more British food from 2017

Central Government has committed to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food from 2017 through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard.

Announcing the move as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to back British businesses on Monday (July 21), Prime Minister David Cameron and Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said it could result in as much as £400 million of new business for the British food industry.

The Prime Minister 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 Plan for Public Procurement – which is set to benefit British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and the British public.

The public sector in England currently spends £1.2 billion every year on food and drink, and up to £600 million of that is spent on imported produce. It’s estimated that about £400 million of that  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.

“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,” the Prime Minister said. “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.”

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss added that the move would mean that food served in canteens across the public sector could 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,” she said. “This is a huge boost to British farmers and producers, and for students, patients and employees who want to enjoy fantastic food.”

From 2017, public sector buyers will 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 SMEs; and
  • quality of service and value for money.

British farmers are 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, the Government will also put in place a new buying process from September, centred around an online portal. Companies which 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. They will then be able to apply in just a few clicks.

The Plan for Public Procurement was published following Dr Peter Bonfield’s review into public produce procurement, which was commissioned by Defra last year. The plan has already generated support from across Government and the farming and food sector, including the NFU, the Food and Drink Federation and major catering companies like Compass and Baxter Storey, which supply food across the public sector.

“I want this work to change how every public institution views the food it buys,” Dr Bonfield said. “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.

“The appetite for change is there; by creating the right environment and giving organisations the right tools, small businesses will be able to sell nutritious, top-quality food to the public sector market. This is the right approach for our health, our environment and also British businesses.”

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