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Archive for January, 2013

FBA Are Now Working For Their Additional Funding

28 Jan

On Friday 25/01/13 I received an e-bulletin from FBA which had been sent out to producers saying:

We are delighted to note that we have received confirmation that the Fork2Fork website will stay online during 2013. Despite the end of the Fork2Fork pledge in 2012 the website will remain live with the added production of a regular e-bulletin in order to notify producers and wider stakeholders of ongoing activity in the sector during the year.

Well isn’t that interesting? I send in a Freedom of Information question, learn that FBA have asked and been granted an extension, now all of a sudden FBA then tell me they’ve got the extension they applied for. I did wonder what prompted FBA into action, but I think maybe I can guess!!!

Official version:

This Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme project was originally approved for two years but under the terms of the scheme projects can ask for extensions up to a final date of 30 June 2015. This project has been extended twice and the last extension was approved on 10 October 2012.

Approved on 10/10/12, but it’s well over three months before FBA could be bothered to tell any of us in the food industry.  Do you think that you are getting value-for-money, firstly from the £55k spent on one conference? I’ve yet to talk to anyone who went to it and just in case you are interested, I wasn’t invited to it, which might come as a surprise to some of you, but I guess not too many! Then secondly another £43,761 donation to FBA and it takes them over 3 months before ‘we’ are officially told about it.

Not sure who named this scheme the Supply Chain ‘Efficiencies’ Scheme, from my view it would have been sensible either to have found a better title, or made their ‘donations’ under this scheme to companies who understand what efficiency means!!!!! But unless you are working and watching money being wasted in our food industry, who really cares? Did the person/s responsible for throwing more money at FBA bother to see what the Fork2Fork website ranked when £800k was thrown at it? Did it better the rankings on welshfoodbites? No it didn’t, but this initial project was evaluated by Miller Research. Now it has been agreed that another £43,761 should be give for additional activity for the website, plus some further information circulation.

Let’s then for the moment just leave it at that, but I’m far from happy with this situation and shall continue ask more and more questions …………………..maybe then I shall understand this horrific waste of money

 
 

Food Event At National Botanical Gardens

28 Jan

Thanks to quite a number of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers I was told about this even and asked a few times if we were going. Well NBG is not a favourite venue of mine, but on Sunday we did make the effort and attend. The weather, sunny on our drive there, did turn chilly and showery later on. But the first problem was people arriving who thought that entry to the NBG was free in January, but this year for a reason best known to NBG, a £2.00 entry charge was levied. Well done NBG, confusion and annoyance reigned. Why you simply cannot allow free entry and support the traders whose money you have already taken is totally beyond me. Then I was told each trader was given 10 free tickets to give out, which really doesn’t make sense to me and then stick a £2.00 charge on the gate. As at every food event run at the NBG, I don’t get a press release from them, but what’s even more annoying is that on the NBG website there is no list of producers. But for goodness sake, why not? Are NBG just being lazy, or can’t they see how traders and the press would find this useful?

I’m not sure if this sloppiness or just unprofessional, is because this organisation is basically funded, or do they just not care about food producers? We had quite a few of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers there and as they weren’t busy, all of them were up for a chat. Thanks goodness Preseli Coffee was one of them, because my goodness I needed my coffee fixes after that gossiping. I talked to very few of the producers that had had a reasonable day and many were well down on takings from this event last year. I’m not sure if NBG would ever take into account the severe down turn in the Welsh economy and how much help our food traders need. But guess they just don’t have to think about anyone else but themselves. As always, inside the glass house, the NBG had their coffee snack bar open, but not only that, the NBG had also set up an additional stand, which actually wasn’t clear whose stand it was, selling burgers. I was told that a professional producer had paid and attended on Saturday doing burgers but did not attend on Sunday………. Why the NBG cannot simply market their cafés for Sunday lunch and make their money there and leave the glass house to producers, totally mystifies me. Have cake and eat it seems to fit the NBG bill here.

If you want to check out last year’s report on this event, it was posted on 300112.

 
 

Food Festival Funding for 2013

24 Jan

I’ve been getting so many calls and emails through asking me to give them an update on food festival funding for this year. Well dear readers if I had any news, I would have thought you’d have known that it would have been sent around our Best Of Welsh & Border producers within the hour of us getting it and certainly posted, all beinbg well, within the day. The reason this hasn’t happened is – I know nothing!’

I’ve suggested that those who are seriously beginning to panic ring wag direct and I’ve given the number and a person to contact. Whether any follow through with that course of action I’m not sure because the organiser’s fear is that they’ll be listed as trouble-makers. I can understand their concern but there is nothing else I can do to help on this one. I have suggested to wag time and time again that it is only fair that organisers are told at the end of the year if they have funding for the following year and how much. Surely that’s the only fair way to operate, isn’t it? More so when many people running festivals are volunteers. I cannot see how wag can spout of the importance of food festivals and treat people like this.

Eventually each year I do get a press release with details of the funded festivals and a Welsh Government spokesman is usually quoted as saying how important food festivals are to the Welsh economy and such a boost for our tourism. Yet despite this regular statement the food festival budget continues to be chopped, so if there is any logic there then I think I’m missing it.

I understand that the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme states that in its last year of current funding that it will fund 31 exemplar food festivals. Now I am assuming my information is correct on this, but of course will accept being corrected. Where my worry lies is who decides which 31 festivals are classed as ‘exemplar’. I suppose it’s obvious that Miller’s report will be used in part or in full, or otherwise why was it commissioned? Ok, I can answer that myself as I’m sure you can. But I am concerned about food festivals as I’ve always seemed to have a very different set of criteria for judging a worthy festival.

You have my word that as soon as this information is sent to me then it will be circulated. I know this is causing some of you great concern and my sympathies are certainly with those early running as many smaller festivals cannot proceed without this much needed funding. Wag with the Miller Research survey have got some organisers worried as they are often told they should be self-funding – well dear readers fear not with that argument, because if Abergavenny, Cardiff and Conwy, wags top three supported festivals are still unable or unwilling to support themselves, then this self-funding argument doesn’t stack up does it?

 
 

Are HCC Really Working For Welsh Butchers?

23 Jan

Answers on a postcard please, well actually the back of a stamp will no doubt suffice!!

As my meat campaign continues, I do hope you’ll find this latest post, which is really a more English post, of interest. Yesterday afternoon Ian rang Eblex and asked many butcher/meat related questions. Eblex are the organisation for the English Beef and lamb industry and are funded by the beef and lamb levy payers in England. Eblex have a Quality Assurance Mark Scheme and the total number of butchers in this scheme is 1,800. The lady at Eblex was not only efficient, she was also very helpful. The one question she wasn’t sure of, she said she’d come back with an answer and today she did just that. Now that’s efficiency and great customer service.

Now a question for you, how long did I wait for HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru, to answer my last email question? Oh just four weeks, which is a long wait even with the excuse of Christmas in-between. There’s no urgency at all at HCC for my press enquiry apparently. But we must bear in mind this is the public sector, whereas our private sector haven’t got the luxury of ignoring emails, although most of us aren’t that rude anyway.

I followed their link: www.eblex.org.uk and I was impressed with their website which showed Eblex for Trade and Eblex for Consumer. On the Trade side the site was well laid out, attractive, colourful with lots of recipes, great photography, blog posts and you can sign up for a newsletter. Then the Consumer link, which is also www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk,which showed a heading for Butchers, which went to Butchers’ Block, then Find A Stockist. Now guess what I found there? A very interactive list of butchers that where with the Eblex Quality Assurance Scheme and it did include five butchers from Wales,  who are obviously involved with this scheme. Now I know that HCC is doing its own PGI accredited butchers listing, which is in progress, but how long has this taken? We still do not have a list, never mind an interactive one that meat buyer can access. Yet I do not feel a good enough job has been done to explain the Welsh public, let alone anyone else, what PGI means. But there is no hiding behind Data Protection for Eblex is there?

Regular readers will know how much I have been struggling, and how much time it has taken, actually  since 12th October, for HCC to supply me with the number of independent butchers in Wales. But even though this was through the Freedom Of Information Act, I’ve made little progress as barrier after barrier has been put up against me by HCC. However, after calling Eblex yesterday, within an hour an email arrived with lots and lots of information, plus the number of independent butchers in England, Scotland and Wales. So success there, but also great concern as the figure given for 1990 was 14,999 and in 2011 was down to 6378. This shows beyond any doubt the effect the supermarkets are having on butchers in England, Scotland and Wales. But dear readers, please don’t panic if you are a butcher trying to trade in Wales, just remember to keep telling HCC you exist, they might just help you, and hopefully you’ll not be left as one butcher commented yesterday, that it didn’t work for them and they have to keep calling HCC to try and get promotional material. It will certainly not be the last time I say this, but you couldn’t run an unfunded business the way HCC is run. So I can hardly believe HCC’s press releases, more of them patting themselves on the back for a job they think is well done but is certainly not what I’m being told.

So do I believe HCC, or do I believe our butchers? Again answers on a postcard , which is where I started isn’t it?

 

 
 

Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme – HCC Project Summary Report

22 Jan

I promise I’ll try and change topic from HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru, soon, but when information comes through that I think will be of interest – and HCC certainly fits the bill of late – then I really must post it and share it with you as I knew nothing about this. In case you are not aware, HCC is officially owned by the Welsh Government but is an independent limited company. Their day-to-day operations are controlled by the Board of Directors and executive management.

Under the 2007 – 2013 Rural Development Plan, HCC had a project agreed that was split into two sections. The first section relates to sourcing economic and marketing intelligence data and the second part proposes to develop the use of benchmarking in Wales. This 3 year project was undertaken throughout Wales, collating meat information and disseminating the information to the Welsh red meat industry.

Apparently HCC started this project on 4/12/08 and it ended on 1/12/11. Under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, HCC were awarded £1,050,000 – yes a million pounds.

I am sorry to continue banging the same drum, but this is our money that is being spent, or wasted depending on your viewpoint. In the world of promotion, I always thought one of the first principles was to identify the supply chain, anyone disagree on this? So in the instance of HCC knowing the outlets, at least on paper for communication, was surely paramount. But late last year I was officially told that HCC did not have a list of independent butchers in Wales, despite the fact that this project ended in December 2011!!

Your money well spent? Well I can certainly make my mind up on this, certainly not. But as ever I’m more than happy to listen to views of those of you working and trying to earn a living in the Welsh meat trade ………………………..

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

It Appears There Are About 353 Butchers & Retailers On HCC’s Database

22 Jan

Despite my sending through a Freedom of Information question Number 6577, asking for the number of independent butchers in Wales, I was told by HCC that they didn’t have a number they could let me have, only their own database listing, which was not for third parties, because of Data Protection, it appears that HCC have now miraculously discovered a figure – hurrah!

I had no intention of giving HCC publicity on the press release they promised on their promotional material over the festive season. BUT as their press release gives me a figure that HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru, sent out packs to over 350 independent butchers and retailers in Wales, I thought you might be interested.

HCC followed their promotion with a survey and according to HCC, 99% of butchers said they rated the promotional material as either very good or good. As a cynical journalist and one not impressed so far with HCC, I’m not sure that I believe this figure, but perhaps all you butchers, well those that were fortunate enough to be on HCC’s database and got your promotional material, are happy to promptly respond to HCC’s survey.

Finally HCC state that a total of 353 Christmas point of sale kits were sent out to butchers across Wales last year. But in this sentence they state butchers not butchers/retailers as their press releases started off with. So I remain confused whether the figure given is for 350 butchers and retailers, or 353 butchers…….

 
 

Butchers, Butchers, Butchers – It’s Down To You to Tell HCC You Exist!!!

21 Jan

I promised you an update on this latest version of smoke and mirrors, this time though with HCC. After four weeks, I’ve now got a response. I’m told that HCC encourage butchers to contact HCC if they set up a new business or move premises, but I’m not told how HCC achieves this if they don’t know about all butchers in Wales. I’m also told that there is no legal obligation for butchers to register with HCC as HCC is not a regulatory public body. Not that I ever said it was – but there we are.

Apparently HCC is in a different situation to regulatory public bodies, for example there is a statutory requirement for food premises to register with the environmental health departments, (EHD) of local authorities. But there is no need for EHDs to communicate with HCC and tell them where butchers are, because this would be very close to – communication – working together – helping each other – so no hope at all of that happening is there?

HCC say they do work with butchers by asking them to voluntarily provide them with their contact details so that HCC can supply promotional material. But again I’m, puzzled as to how HCC can do this when HCC are not in contact with all butchers in Wales. Oh silly me, HCC mean that they contact butchers that have already contacted the HCC so that HCC know they exist!!!!!!

You’ll all be delighted to hear that HCC have had some feedback from butchers – well obviously those that HCC know about –‘regarding our latest recent promotional material have been very encouraging’. Well am I impressed with that piece of news? No I’m not. I’ve still no idea how many butchers there are in Wales and it seems I’m the only person in Wales wanting that information. But I wouldn’t even have bothered wasting so much of my time, if butchers were not telling me that HCC is not doing a good job for them and I still believe the people telling me the truth are the ones at the sharp end, the ones fighting to make a living. I’m just sad and frustrated butchers haven’t got a better well-paid body looking after their interests.

I’m also told that the results will be the subject of an upcoming press release. Well guys, like me, I bet you can’t wait to read that, but actually, I’m not sure where you guys will read that press release, because I doubt I’ll be publishing it………

 
 

Update on FBA Project

11 Jan

I sent my supplementary questions through and the response that has come back, but not under FOI.

The original appointment of FBA to the Fork2Fork role was a Steering Committee which was made up of both civil servants and lay representatives. This being the case I assume that it was the same Steering Committee that extended the contract.

1. Was it the steering committee, a civil servant, or the deputy minister, that extended the contract from 30th June 2011 to 31 March 2014??

2. If it was the Steering Committee, at which meeting was it decided, again assuming that the minutes are in the public domain? I should like a copy of the minutes sent to me by return please.

3. If it was a civil servant or deputy minister who extended the contract, under what authority was this done? The original contract shown for tender did not have any extension option attached to it!

4. As there was no extension on the original contract, I am assuming that the role was put out to tender, either framework or open tender. Please furnish me with the details of this tender.

5. The original tender was not a framework agreement. With the original tender, many of the bodies that went forward for the work would not appear on any relevant framework. So to be transparent and fair, I assume that this went to open tender. Please clarify. If question four is incorrect then can you furnish me with the tender details of this open tender.

6. I am assuming that the tender will provide me with all the details of the objectives of the extension and from what point they start. If for any reason there has not been a tendering process, then please accept this as a question!

7. Again I am assuming that the amount paid for this work will have appeared on a contracts awarded notice. If for any reason there has not been a tendering process, then please accept this as a question and supply details.

8. Assuming this extension has been paid for out of European Funding then I expect some evaluation of this extension. Please furnish me with the details of this evaluation. How was this evaluation awarded. Who has been awarded this evaluation? The cost and the timescale please?

9. The original Fork to Fork project was all about profile, promotion and awareness, and was not an under resourced project at £800k over 2 years. It is logical that the extension continues with this important work and as such one would have expected press release about this extension. I have overlooked these press releases and would ask you to provide me with back copies of them.

10. Please clarify fully what objectives FBA have been set until 31/3/14?

 

Some of you know that there was considerable unrest when this contract was awarded, but nevertheless, through wag it went ahead. Apparently when the project ended on 30/6/11 the project sponsor Francis Balsom Associates Ltd, made a standard request to vary and/or extend its existing project through the usual Project Variation procedure. All projects, including those under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, have the opportunity to request variations or amendments to their projects both in terms of length of time for delivery or the total cost of the project by submitting a proposal to Scheme Management Unit. The request apparently was assessed and appraised and it was considered to be duly justified within the terms of the Scheme and the context of the project taking into account any evaluation reports where available. However I’m told now that this wasn’t an extension of a contract, but is instead an amendment to an approved project. So this being the case there was no tendering or framework involved.

This project was run under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme project (funded through the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development) and apparently, the key outputs of these kinds of projects are the evaluation reports which set out to explain in some detail what the project aimed to achieve, how it set out to achieve those aims, what happened during the delivery stages and what lessons have been learned along the way so as to inform project proposals for the next programme period. These reports will be publicly available and once completed all of them will be published together on our website so that they will be a resource to help project sponsors devise projects in the future. As this was an extension to an existing project the additional activity is to keep the website active and do some modest circulation of new information over the next twelve months. This includes an extension to the independent evaluation which is being done by Miller Research so what would have been the “final” report now will become a report to that date and a further report will be produced at the end of the project. The production of a further report was the only specific condition of the approval for the amendment to their project.

It is up to the project sponsors to do their own publicity but it is rather surprising, bearing in mind I still wait to be told when the project was extended, that I knew nothing about this extension and I’ve not heard anyone else talking about it either. So however much FBA are being paid for this what are they doing with the money, however much it is? I’m also told that it is unusual for project sponsors to issue new publicity, but there is nothing preventing them from doing that should they wish to as the decision rests with them. Then keep the website active, who is trying to be funny here? Firstly how do you define active has anyone a list of their rankings over the last two years to show me? I’ve just used Google to go onto Fork2Fork website and it doesn’t show on my screen as ranked. This might be funny if it wasn’t being funded..

So dear reader, why should it not be compulsory for the project sponsors to tell at least the Welsh food press that this project is now extended? Who in their right mind would think that keeping this a secret is a good idea? Someone who is not investing their own money in this silly scheme maybe?

The Welsh Government has a commitment to the financial transparency initiative in place whereby all payments above £25,000 made by the Welsh Government to legal bodies (commercial companies but not private individuals) are published on the main website each month and this can be found from the link below.

http://wales.gov.uk/about/civilservice/facts/ourfinances/25kexpenditure/?lang=en

I can only suggest you copy this link and follow it through, but please check it out and see just where some of our money goes. It is not easy and even when you get there, you’ve no idea who has been paid for what scheme/project. So the Welsh Government’s commitment to the financial transparency is certainly in need of much more work – my end of term report on this idea is, could do better – much, much better.

I’ve gone back with more questions and to push for those that have not been answered too but this does make life dreary and I’m not sure can of worms covers this.

 
 

Did You Know That FBA’s Well Paid Contract Has Been Extended?

09 Jan

Am I the only Welsh media person interested in food that had no idea that FBA’s well paid contract had been extended? Hopefully you Best Of Welsh & Borders producers will make me feel better by telling me you didn’t know either. Does anybody have any ideas why wag wouldn’t want me to know this bit of news? Can they really beleive that I’m no longer interested in Welsh food? Surely not…….

Follws is the FOI I sent through on 29th November. I had to chase wag after they missed their 20 working day time limit. I’m puzzled as to why it was so difficult to track down this information, but then I’m thankfully not a civil servant, playing it seems to me, another game of smoke and mirrors. The FOI is shown in full as follows:

Request for Information – Reference ATISN 6721

 In your request you asked:

 1. The Fork2Fork website is still being updated and Fork2Fork are also actively following welshcountrymagazine on Twitter. Can you explain how this is being funded and who is paying for this website work, considering this project concluded in September 2011.

2. Under this project, FBA purchased a promotional trailer to take to events. So what has happened to this trailer now?

a) Who has use of it?

b) Was this trailer sold to them?

c) If so what was the cost?

d) Where did the purchase fee go?

3. A copy of the report that was undertaken at the end of this project by Miller Research. Our response to your request is as follows.

 RESPONSE

1. Francis Balsom Associates are delivering the Fork2Fork project which is funded under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, Axis 1 of the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-13 which was originally approved to 30 June 2011 and has been extended to 31 March 2014.

2. As the project has been extended the promotional trailer remains in the ownership of FBA for the delivery of the project.

3. The information you have requested is already in the public domain and can be accessed using the following link

http://fork2fork.org.uk/fork2fork-wins-2012-silver-cipr-award

Because we consider this information to be available to you by other means we are not required to provide you with a copy of the information under Section 21 of the FOIA ‘Information accessible to the applicant by other means’. This is an absolute exemption and is not subject to the public interest or substantial harm tests.

Well dear reader, it seems I have managed to open another can of worms and don’t worry, follow-up questions have already been sent through. I would have expected to have been told officially by wag that this contract had been extended, via a press release. But wag obviously think I have nothing better to do than carry on sending FOIs through, just because their press department can’t be bothered to keep the media informed. The other way of looking at this is perhaps this was simply wag simply sweeping it under their carpet – again!!! But it wasn’t sent to me, so why not? Was this a deal done with FBA in secret? Well that is the way it looks to me, which makes this issue even worse as this scheme has been troubled with distrust from when the contract was awarded.

I have asked for a copy of the evaluation report undertaken in case you weren’t aware, or couldn’t guess, by Miller Research and was told that it was the property of FBA and I had to ask them for a copy. But no-one thought to let me know it was then in the public domain – IO wonder why? Communication is the key wag and it’s a pity your press team have not got this message through to your food team. So now dear reader you can enjoy some bedtime reading by getting this report yourself. I can’t of course guarantee it will send you to sleep, you might feel angry as I do now, after only skimming a few pages. What annoyed me most  were quotes about how wonderful FBA were and how wonderful this project was, but no-one was identified, no doubt to protect the under the Data Protection Act. Well I’m always happier with names along with quotes, but wag prefers to keep people hidden. Apart from stakeholder, stakeholder was busy spouting, and being cynical it always then seems to me to be a fairy story. One part that did rile me enormously was a quote, identified again as from a stakeholder saying: FBA have a tough remit to cover the whole of Wales, acknowledging the level of animosity to anything funded by the Welsh Government.

Well sorry to disagree, but that in my view is total rubbish. Like me, many people in the food industry don’t always object to anything funded by wag, we often object to  how these expensive tenders are awarded. We object to some of the silly schemes that wag come up with. We object to how much European and taxpayers money is wasted. We object strongly how many of these expensive projects rarely give taxpayer value-for-money. Is that enough to keep you going for now?

I’ll update you dear reader when I am able to……………

 
 

Join The Jamboree In Narbeth

09 Jan

I am going to try hard this year and make sure I get some positive posts up and not focus on the doom and gloom which seems to pour into our office on the food side.

I’m a little late posting this, but I visited Jamboree last Saturday after catching up with friends for coffee at Morawelon in Newport.

I’d visited Jamboree once before and as I do like Narbeth too it was a good excuse, if one was needed, to visit Jamboree again.  Jamboree is now under the ownership of Barry Chapman and it’s very easy to find on the High Street, near to Queen’s Hall. We’d had visitors staying with us last time we called in and we were playing our role as ‘tour guides’. The staff were very pleasant, friendly and helpful and the varied menu was a joy to behold and I’m pleased to report the standard there is still as high.

There’s a huge choice for breakfast including and All Day Breakfast, plus choice of soups, jackets, paninis, sandwiches, baguettes, traditional favourites, specials, chefs pies, children’s’ menu and a wonderful array of teas, coffees and the selection of homemade cakes and scones, certainly put off the diet for a little longer.

Everything at this café bistro menu is freshly produced in-house, so it is understandable that at busy times you’ll possibly have to wait, but rest assured it will be worth it. Good food is worth waiting for. Jamboree also do take-away and can cater for outside events too.

I really enjoyed my second visit there and if you’re ever in the Narbeth area do pay them a call and let me know that you enjoyed it as much as I did.