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UK Government taking our food system for granted, as investment falls

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Government needs to do more to help UK’s largest manufacturing sector to attract vital investment, says FDF boss. Credit: Getty/Tim Robberts
Government needs to do more to help UK’s largest manufacturing sector to attract vital investment, says FDF boss. Credit: Getty/Tim Robberts

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While food and drink manufacturers contribute more than £35bn to the UK economy, critical investment has declined, highlighting the need for government to do more, says FDF chief executive.

The food and drink sector employs 4.5m people across the UK, with manufacturing specifically employing 472,000 people across 12,515 UK businesses, data from Food & Drink Federation (FDF) highlights.

Yorkshire and the Humber, home to the likes of Harbio – one of Yorkshire’s largest employers – is the food and drink’s biggest manufacturing sector. The area accounts for 16.2% of total manufacturing GVA and 22.1% of total manufacturing turnover.

However, despite being a key economic pillar to the UK, ONS data shows a sustained decline in investment into food and drink.

During the year to Q3 2023, investment actually fell by 33.2% compared to the same period in 2019. This is in contrast to the UK as a whole, which saw investment rise by 5.4%.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Budget​, the FDF is calling on the UK Government to work with the sector to agree long-term policies that drive ‘vital’ private investment.

“Unlike many industries, ours is spread evenly across the country, with regions of real strength like the Midlands, North of England, Scotland’s central belt and South Wales, where we provide good jobs and great careers in big companies and small,”​ commented FDF’s chief executive, Karen Betts.

“But the government should not take our industry for granted. Our sector urgently needs investment – in science, innovation, automation and new technologies – if it’s to remain the powerhouse that our country needs it to be into the future.”

To help unlock further productivity and growth, the association is urging government to set up a formal food and drink innovation partnership and offer financial incentives through a Food and Drink Manufacturing Transformation Fund. This would help to accelerate the adoption of automation and digital technology.

“We need a strategic approach from government looking at attracting new investment and building productivity – to set the conditions for success into the next decade,” ​Betts concluded.

In related news, Food Manufacture heard from Betts in its latest edition of The Talent Poole. Read her exclusive interview here.

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