Francis Maude: £400m new business for British farmers

Horsham MP Francis Maude

Horsham MP Francis Maude

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Last week the new Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, announced a government initiative which could see £400 million of potential new business heading the way of British farmers and food producers.

The Great Food Plan will benefit thousands of British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and the British public by introducing a new, simplified food and drink buying standard.

From 2017, all of central government must commit to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food, so that all food that can be bought locally will be bought locally.

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.

The public sector in England spends £1.2 billion every year on food and drink. Up to half of that is spent on imported produce, which seems absurd. This initiative seeks to reduce that by two thirds, making a further £400 million of it up for grabs by British producers.

British farmers and growers are expected to benefit significantly from the plan because they will be best placed to meet flexible criteria – criteria which will also remove the pressure that many schools and hospitals felt that EU rules placed on them to buy on the basis of cost alone.

As well as backing local and sustainable food, the new standards enable procurement from smaller producers which should mean more competition, less waste and reduced costs, including the environmental cost of food miles.

As someone who was brought up on a small farm, this is dear to my heart, and I urge all local organisations to get behind this initiative.

It is excellent news for farmers and food producers in Sussex, providing them with a real opportunity to supply our schools and hospitals with more of their locally-produced, top-quality food.

It will mean a more secure future for our local farmers and will ensure that our school children and hospital patients are able to enjoy the best of British every day, and food served in canteens across the public sector can be more local, seasonal and tastier.

We should all expect reduced waste, higher take-up of meals and less unappetising food left on plates, but more importantly this should foster a healthy appreciation of where our food comes from, how it travels to arrive on our plates and how we can all be healthier by shortening that journey as far as possible.