We need to talk about … The next Government

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Rod Addy explores how the UK election is impacting the food sector in his latest column.
Rod Addy explores how the UK election is impacting the food sector in his latest column.

Related tags Trade Health Regulation

Anyone who has seen governments come and go and has followed current affairs over the past few years will know the UK’s challenges will not magically disappear with a change at the top.

Whichever party wins the 4th​ July general election must still tackle import issues at borders, climate change and the continued impact of the cost of living crisis and inflation.

On the last two points, some say the danger has passed. However, the economic climate we have faced in the past two years has a long tail. Although raw material and commodity prices are shrinking, businesses and consumers must still budget to include costs significantly higher than before the pandemic.

The added costs of Brexit in terms of exporting to the EU and importing from the continent must still be borne. And, while there are significant export opportunities outside the EU, building international trade won’t replace lost EU revenue any time soon.

All these shocks often have delayed implications. Companies may be able to eat into reserves for a year or two before running on empty and making tough decisions. If they have been holding tight to purse strings, they will now be starting to face the consequences of limiting investment. The same goes for the public.

That doesn’t account for any imminent curve balls in terms of geopolitical unrest in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. That could mess with supply chains and prices all over again.

It doesn’t help that Westminster and Whitehall seem to have applied an overly strict definition of purdah – the period leading up to the election – cancelling all engagement with industry, even on matters essential to trade. With Parliament now dissolved, there have also been no sitting MPs as of yesterday. That means any traders floundering with border issues are getting little support on queries from Defra.

The dissolution of Parliament also means outstanding Commons business is now unlikely to be addressed. That includes the controversial introduction of GB-wide ‘Not for EU’ labelling – at least by 1st​ October. It also shelves the Fairer Labelling consultation.

The new Government has only a short time before the summer recess, as the new Parliament has been called to meet on 9th​ July. State opening of Parliament and the King’s speech will follow on 17th​ July – just five days before recess and no return until the autumn.

So, what can the food industry expect from the general election? By all accounts, the polls that matter have Labour leading by a significant amount. Yet, given our voting system, Labour would have to win by a landslide to secure a decent majority of seats. That also depends on a good voter turnout. A hung Parliament is not completely out of the question if the Conservatives stage a strong enough campaign.

Whoever wins the day will be working with limited coffers, which in theory means they could lean on the food sector more to get things done. Growing the economy and keeping inflation stable remains a core consideration.

Equally, dealing with climate impact and the environmental agenda will be a priority for Parliamentary business, if not political campaigning.

Regardless of what happens to the Fairer Labelling Consultation, food labelling to highlight eco-friendly and healthy eating credentials and animal welfare concerns will rank highly. As will the wider health agenda, as health lobbyists are pushing ultra-processed food concerns to the top of the list.

Ultimately, all we can do is sit tight and wait, and re-engage with Government as soon as we get the chance.

In other news, Food Manufacture's next editorial webinar is open for registration - join an expert panel as they discuss how Britain can become the next exporting superpower.

Related topics Supply Chain Brexit

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