The government’s new Plan for Public Procurement, which was jointly announced by the new environment secretary Elizabeth Truss and prime minister David Cameron, could generate more than £400M for British producers, they claimed.
By 2017, all of central government will commit to buying fresh, locally sourced and seasonal food through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard, Truss and Cameron added.
£1.2bn spend on food and drink
England’s public sector annually spends £1.2bn on food and drink and more than £600M of that is imported, they said.
Following central government’s commitment, schools and hospitals would then be encouraged to work to the standards.
The standards form part of the government’s long-term economic plan to “back the do-ers and the hard workers” in the British food industry, said Cameron.
“It’s a triple win – and will mean a brighter future for our country,” he added.
“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,” Cameron said.
Truss said: “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.”
The news was welcomed by Minette Batters, the National Farmers Union’s deputy president, who also praised the plan’s author, Dr Peter Bonfield.
“We applaud the work that Bonfield has done to develop a new architecture for public sector procurement,” said Batters.
‘Chimes with our wider aspiration’
“The aim, to grow the amount of locally sourced food and drink, chimes with our own wider aspiration of growing the British farming industry,” she added.
Emyr Jones, Farmers Union of Wales president, said it was time all government departments worked to the same standards.
“It is extremely frustrating when some government departments work hard to support rural communities and promote our produce, while others are actively buying from our competitors,” he said.
Meanwhile, 15 agri-tech projects received a share of £18M-worth of funding from the government and the food industry to help boost agricultural innovation, as well as the commercial viability of the UK’s food and drink sector.
The projects range from research into controlling disease in potato production, to developing a new variety of strawberry that can be grown without soil and using sunlight to extend the shelf-life of fresh produce.
British food and drink in numbers:
- £2.66bn – the annual food and drink spend by government organisations
- £37.2bn – the UK’s food and drink trade deficit
- £97.1bn – the amount the agri-food sector contributed to the UK’s economy
- £4.1bn – the amount beverages contributed to the economy
- 12% – the amount food prices have risen since 2007
- 5,800 – the number of small and medium-sized food and drink businesses in the UK