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Is Welsh Government Food Beginning To Get It Right?

30 Oct

I never thought I would say it, and it does not mean that all is well in the world of Wag Food,  but I do think and hope that the direction has now changed. Of course like you, we must now wait and see if what Wag Food say turns into action, but I’m sticking to feeling hopeful.

Let me put this into context and take you back to June this year. At that stage Wag was leaving all but their favoured few in the dark, using smoke and mirror tactics and avoiding or fudging answers to my questions.  Thankfully a Best of Welsh, BOW, producer told us that they had been told about a Dairy Summit and a Food Summit being held with leading people within the industry, so they could sit down and discuss the future. The Dairy Summit was imminent but the Food Summit was still a few weeks away in July. When asking around only a handful of those we asked in the food industry knew of the forthcoming summits. Indeed I blogged about the Welsh Food Summits – Why The Secret? on 25th June.

A day later it was blogged, Not Quite An update On Welsh Dairy Summit when it was apparent that things at FMDD were still very much a closed shop and only those that would not rock any boat allowed through the Wag doors.

I did have an invite to the Food Summit, not to the event, I wasn’t allowed to that, but to interview the Deputy Minister Alun Davies AM. This invite I accepted and for 30 minutes we did have a discussion, with me raising topics of food festivals and markets, micro producers, rather than the summit which I’d no idea what they were discussing. The exchange was polite, but as expected with four minders in tow, the Deputy Minister stuck to his political line.  A few days later though we did have an, Update On The Welsh Food Summit which I blogged, but I was still being blocked with questions I continued to ask. One of these questions was who had been invited to these summits and how representative where they of the Welsh food sector. After mentioning Data Protection, eventually I was sent the details which I blogged about on the 8th August Recently Held Welsh Dairy & Welsh Food Summits – List Of Invitees. Earlier this month and as at least in part a result of the Dairy Summit, Deputy Minister Alun Davies did come out with Deputy Minister Outlines Support For Dairy Industry (blogged on 16th October) and issued in the form of a press release.

The latest update I have for you is this. Last week I had an email from FMDD which was very interesting and very welcomed – hence my hope for the future! It has taken me over a week to find out the exact openness of this document. With the change or heart from the food department I felt it only polite and correct to ask them, rather than as I would have done in the past, publish and be damned. Just as a reminder for you, the Food Summit was instigated by Deputy Minister Alun Davies as a means of meeting with industry and getting HRH Prince of Wales’ support for the sector. HRH Prince Of Wales has been a great supporter of Welsh local food and does visit many food events, markets and also visits producers when he spends time in Wales.  I am sure that you will not agree with everything in this report but if that is the case, please do, air your views about your industry. You do not have to put your name to it and I will not divulge your name to ANYONE, unless you agree. If you can’t be bothered, you’re too busy, or you don’t believe we’ll ever get changes made, or perhaps you’re in total agreement with everything in the summary, then I’ll accept that as your choice, but please don’t moan at me six or twelve months down the track……………………………  because I doubt I’ll be sympathetic if you do nothing now!!! Follows has been lifted directly from the report and has not been amended at all:  Welsh Food Summit – The Executive Summary

1. The Welsh Government held a Welsh Food Summit and Workshops at the National Botanic Gardens for Wales on 12th July 2012.

2. During the event, delegates were asked to attend 2 workshops per am or pm session so that everyone attended all 4 workshops. The workshop themes were Market development, Innovation and added value, Food Tourism and Growing the Future.

3. This report covers the deliberations of and outputs from the Workshops based on the notes taken by the scribes on the day. Below we present the key issues for each theme:

4. Market development: a. The True Taste Awards – is seen as a good scheme in principle but in need of significant change and a more commercial focus on larger businesses. b. Public Procurement – the low margins in this segment were cited and the attendees felt WG could help by promoting quality food and healthy diets in schools, health, etc c. Support for Business – they described a varied role for WG including funding (grants and loans) and providing support for the availability of market intelligence and expert advice d. Government’s role in ‘education’ – this encompassed ‘educating’ customers to buy local products, encouraging purchasing responsibility on behalf of supermarkets, creating a national brand for Wales and focusing on schools to promote a better understanding of where food comes from e. Exporting – they saw a specific role for WG in supporting export activity through practical assistance from WG in opening up and developing export markets.

5. Innovation and added value: a. Government support (for Innovation & Added Value) – they saw a role for targeted support for innovation including expertise/knowledge sharing/technology transfer and to address bureaucracy as a barrier and delay to project development. Attendees also cited access to market data and research as being important. Lack of funding and better targeting of funding was also identified as ripe for improvement. b. Education & Skills – this section focused on both education, e.g. from changes to the schools curricula and career advice and skills – focusing on apprenticeships (and issues of making resources available for apprenticeships). Attendees also cited the need for improvement in development of (post experience) skills and training c. Government (more generally) – the attendees thought that public sector procurement should do more to support the local food economy, and impose conditions on planning permission for new supermarket developments to stock a minimum proportion of local products d. Food Centres – they saw Food Centres as an important example of innovation and added value and felt they needed more resources to become more proactive.

6. Food Tourism: a. Promotion outside Wales – they thought there should be an added focus on the promotion of Wales as a tourism destination (including the food offering) outside the Principality. In this context, the True Taste brand was mentioned and it was considered to have poor brand awareness outside Wales b. Linkages between Tourism & Food – They cited the need for better linkages between accommodation and restaurants and food producers and the hospitality sector. In addition they isolated better education in the hospitality sector regarding the benefits of customer care and local sourcing as a desirable improvement. c. The True Taste Awards – they felt much had been achieved since its inception but it now needed significant change. There was now a need to review the objectives (i.e. more focus on consumer attitudes and awareness) and how the budget is spent (i.e. away from the event, the dinner, etc and more towards consumer awareness) d. Food Festivals – attendees identified Food Festivals as an important vehicle for developing Food Tourism. Abergavenny Food Festival was cited as an example of best practice. In addition, they drew a link between popular tourism areas and the food offering (i.e. tie-in popular tourism areas to the food offering). The attendees recorded the need more support to deliver activity, e.g. Food Markets/Festivals. e. Food & Tourism at a Government level – the attendees stated that Food & Tourism should be linked within government and not in ‘silos’ – the consumer should see it as one offering.

7. Growing the Future: a. Schools & Education – a range of issues were raised within this theme but the main message for the Minister was the need to support apprenticeships in horticulture and agriculture. In addition, they focused on the need to add horticulture as a subject in the curriculum and make the profession more appealing to young people as a career option b. Grow Your Own – they cited the heath and community benefits emanating from the Grow Your Own initiative but some delegates questioned the economic benefits. Some highlighted the gap between Grow Your Own and enterprise development c. Supermarkets – on the whole, the attendees saw Supermarkets as having a generally negative effect in terms of people not knowing about food and ‘bullying’ in the market by big operators. However, they also acknowledged that people buy based on price and convenience and that they are generally getting access to what they want and when they want it. d. Local Authorities – the main themes were the need for Local Authorities to be more flexible about planning regarding allotments and more release of land for allotments.

 
 

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  1. trader

    November 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    This is very interesting Kath, proceed with caution, but with some hope for changes for a better future for us. We’ll all have to reserve judgement on new people in place. We need someone good for sure, but if we aren’t lucky enough to have someone in control now, that can talk to us, listen to us and understand that we don’t all want the supermarket route but that we really do need some help.
    I’ve moaned at you endlessly about mentoring, distribution, Horeb, food fests and markets. You’ve not only listened, you have acted with the back-up of your small team and you have made changes for us. Wag aint giving you any credit, but we’d never expect that. But your producers know what’s gone on in the past and how hard and relentlessly you have battled against wag. I know it has cost your company a lot, in time and money.
    So good to see you at Cowbridge and impressed that you have visited over 20 festivals this year. That’s more than I have done. You lot a real grafters. You and the team you understand our problems better than anyone, but we have no right to off-load on you and Ian. It’s well over and above what we’re paying for on best of welsh. It’s so clear that it is worth every penny and we need to get more people in with you to help your business.
    Keep it up with wag, if you have the time and energy. Just realise we producers know how much you and your people do for food in Wales.

     
  2. Producer

    November 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I must say I agree whole heartedly with Trader comments. I am currently giving the report some thought, but the fact that we are allowed to read and comment on the report is a huge step forward. Thanks Kath, to you and your team!

     
  3. andy

    November 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    It would be interesting to survey food producers that have set up in Wales over the last 10 years to see if Farmers Markets and Local Produce Markets were an integral part in testing and launching their product. If a high percentage confirmed this, it would allow WAG to invest in them directly.

     
  4. admin

    November 6, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Hi Andy
    Thanks for leaving a another interesting comment.
    As you are well aware, ‘someone’ decided to get £800k from Europe to put into a project to help markets, farm shops and box schemes. ‘Someone’ decided that this contract would be given to FBA. Two years later, this same ‘someone’ decided that Miller Research would do an evaluation on this pricey project. Although I have asked wag to let me see a copy of this evaluation, I was told I couldn’t have it as the report belonged to FBA. This surprised me as it was paid for out of the £800k of European money, so how can it be FBA property? Do we in the Welsh food industry not deserve to know what this £800k achieved, even more so when this project didn’t have to be sustainable?
    It would be interesting to learn if this secret report mentioned anything about the numbers of producers starting up in the last 10 years and used the markets as a test-bed for their products. That would certainly give food for thought if this was ever looked at by Miller. Or perhaps this report was simply a wag/european tick box exercise……….
    Appreciate your comments pity wag don’t talk to you and get your sensible views.

     
  5. Wary man

    November 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for putting this up Kath, in fact thanks for running welshfoodbites and a final thank you to you and your people for all you do for welsh food. You have been a breath of fresh air in our industry and I know that it has come as a big cost to your business.
    I’ve read this through and all I can say is I am wary but have a little hope that the new guy in postion might be more open, more interested and more pro-active for us. The last food team have damaged us micro producers massively. We are always, always, always the forgotten sector. The money supposedly put into markets, boxes and shops, which should have helped us certainly didn’t and is anyone in wag bothered? Of course not, what is £800,000 to them with cushy jobs and pensions. Markets need ongoing publicity because having them on a fortnightly basis is confusing for many locals, let alone visitors. You used to run a page of market dates in the magazine, can you do it again? They so need to be in people’s faces constantly as an ongoing reminder of what is going on through Wales each month. The same with food festivals and anything food realted, Christmas Fairs, Easter Fairs, St David’s food festivals. Whoops, I’ve just had a rethink in what I’ve put down and realise you can’t possibly do this again unless you are paid for it. Sorry, but I think this should always have been done. It is needed, markets and festivals are very important to me and many other producers that are small like me.
    Thanks Kath and sorry to go on.

     
  6. Cup Cake

    November 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

    This is more hot air from the favoured few big boys, the supermarket kings and wags favourites.
    Take care on this because once more micro producers are ignored and offered nothing at all. There’s such bad feeling amongst us micros still, having been taken to the cleaners by FBA and their waste of all that money. They must have lined their own pockets, but achieved nothing for us at the grass roots of this industry.
    Most of our farmers and local markets are still in the doldrums and I don’t know of any box schemes that are flourishing because of FBAs work.
    Waste of time, waste of money and wag food really do excel at waste

     
  7. producer

    November 15, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    No they are not
    you can hold your breath and hope that the new guy will have more of a clue than than the other one
    but don’t expect a civil servant to have our interest at heart. It’s the big boys and the supermarkets who will rule as always.
    Smaller people like me – and there are plenty my size, don’t trust wag and are unlikley to voice our true opinion even if they could be bothered to ask.
    You’ve earned our trust – they’ll have a long hard job to do that even if they bothered to try.
    Be wary and if it changes I’ll certainly say I was wrong