The vote for Brexit provides an unrivalled opportunity to revolutionise our public procurement practices, ensuring that Welsh money is spent on supporting Welsh farmers and producers, writes Janet Finch-Saunders.
Did you know that the Public Sector in Wales is a significant contributor to the Food & Drink spend, annually? Combined across all public services, it is estimated at £78 million. But despite this spend, the current rules work only as an unnecessary barrier which prevents small local Welsh producers from winning lucrative public contracts. With an increased carbon footprint, we all know that buying big is not always beautiful. Therefore, the vote for Brexit provides an ideal opportunity to avail ourselves of this issue by renewing our support of hyper-local Welsh producers.
Introducing new public procurement measures would create greater opportunities for Welsh food and drink businesses, circulating public money where it is invested, improving both efficiency and transparency. It would be a bold signal of support for this sector, as their produce would look to bolster mealtime offerings in Welsh schools, hospitals, armed forces bases and local authority buildings. Implementing new procurement practices would also maximise our long-term support of local businesses who provide essential employment opportunities, encourage a continued push towards high welfare standards and be a sensible, forward-thinking response to the climate emergency.
But whilst the Welsh Government must play a central role towards increasing support for local producers, we must all have a hand in bringing about a whole-sale shift in buying local. This is precisely why I am calling for a strong campaign to encourage all of us to keep buying local. This would include the development of a voluntary Local Food Charter, which would help consumers know which businesses are supporting local or Welsh food producers.
It is why I also welcome the launch of three UK Geographical Indication logos, which will provide confidence that the protected product is authentic whilst protecting makers against imitation. These new logos were developed in conjunction with food and drink producers, Devolved Administrations and consumers. It is thought that the new logos will become a staple on supermarket aisles in the UK and mean shoppers will be able to pick the best of British.
Wales currently has 16 protected food and drink products, ranging from Traditional Welsh Caerphilly Cheese to Welsh lamb, all of which have been recognised for their special qualities by consumers across the world. We know that an international customer base is hungry for Welsh produce – it’s time that Welsh Government agencies do everything possible to empower our businesses to make the most of the new export opportunities that Brexit offers.
Evidence for this hunger comes in the form of our recent landmark deal with Japan, which is not only a huge step forward for Anglo-Japanese relations but also secures additional benefits for Wales beyond the current EU-Japan trade deal, including increasing the number of these geographical indicators. The new deal will not only strengthen the long-term prospects for the 277 businesses in Wales that already exported to Japan last year, but it will also open a new market to the next generation of Welsh food and drink producers.
Trade deals like this will undoubtedly benefit Welsh lamb. This iconic Welsh product has special characteristics that cannot be replicated anywhere else. It’s a fantastic and sustainable product, which contributes considerably to the estimated £690 million red-meat industry in Wales. But there is a hiccup.
If we are to assist with the export of Welsh lamb, we must first increase its shelf life. Successfully achieving a long shelf life depends on having clean and hygienic practices throughout the supply chain, as well as good temperature control once the animal has been slaughtered. However, for this to occur, access to quality training must be maintained.
Note my exasperation, therefore, when a recent FOI request to HCC revealed that the number of courses available to Welsh farmers had decreased from 50 training events in 2018 to 35 in 2019. The Welsh Government has clearly failed to set an explicit and guiding timetable which would instruct sector officials to offer more training events which are required to develop the necessary skills to compete with New Zealand on the global stage.
By actively working to extend the shelf life of Welsh lamb, we would be sending a powerful signal of support for this quintessential Welsh product which has Protected Geographical Indication status, helping to increase exports which would greatly benefit our rural communities. This must be made a priority.
Janet Finch-Saunders MS is the MS for Aberconwy & the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Rural Affairs.