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Archive for March, 2013

Tradestands For Royal Welsh Food Hall – Can You Afford To Go?

28 Mar

One of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers kindly sent me through the application forms for the Royal Welsh Food Hall. For a single fronted stand the cost is £580, with vat it takes it to £696. For a corner stand the cost is £680, plus vat makes it £816.  I’m not 100% certain what prices were paid last year. I did post on last year’s event on 25th July, quoting prices of £750 & £900 inc. vat, but no offical confirmation that these were correct. I’ll try get confirmation so we get a better idea, year on year. For 2010 the information sent through to me showed a single fronted stand £355 plus vat and £405 plus vat for a corner stand. In 2011 prices I have show £600 plus vat which is £750 for a single fronted stand and £700 plus vat for a corner stand which is £875.

Regular readers and our Best Of Welsh & Border producers will know my views of RWAS , it’s not one of my favourite events. The  Food Hall in my view leaves a lot to be desired, despite wag paying a fortune for this new uninspired building and the regular payment they make to RWAS too.

I am assuming that the Farmers’ Market will run again this year; but I’ve not heard officially. I do hope that it is because it’s the only way that the smaller producers can avoid being excluded from the RWAS, purely because of the high tradestand prices. The downside is that the market cannot take a huge number of stands, so that again disappoints some. At last year’s Winter Fair, there was a Farmer’s Market in front of the Member’s new building, but again I’ve not been told if this will be running at the Spring Fair or RWAS itself. That idea was good, but there were flaws in the execution and organisation that need improving. But my moan is s if visitors to RWAS cannot get local food easily, then wag food, along with wag itself are not doing their jobs properly. With all the pomp that RWAS comes with, surely this should be wag’s duty to showcase Welsh food. Wag should be bending over backwards to find ways to encourage as many micro and smaller producers to attend as possible. The reason this doesn’t happen is that high stand prices in the Food Hall literally price them out of that market. So it’s down to wag to find these guys alternatives that will allow them to attend too. It’s so easy for wag in their ivory towers not to think of the added costs for producers, apart from producing their food, extra staff, transport, somewhere to stay, it’s a long list of add-ons. But that is fine if they are taking lots of money, but paying out so much money for the Food Hall is not an option for many.

I’m sick and totally fed up of going around the Food Hall and seeing ‘producers’ who often for example only have a token greenhouse in Wales, yet this still qualifies them to get into the Food Hall, even though their reasons for attending is to make supermarket contacts and direct visotrs to supermrkets to by their produce. If this is the game wag food has to play, fair enough, but don’t neglect the micro and small producers. I’m realistic enough to know that some of or micro producers will never, ever want to grow their business, so much so I now dub them ‘pin-money producers’ but take those out of the scenario and we still have a raft of super producers that really need some support. What hope have this group of producers of growing their businesses if wag continue to take this negative attitude year after year? We all know what happens to acorns if they are nutured – but can’t  wag food do this for our micro/smaller producers?

 

 
 

Just In Case You Thought Wag Was Broke

27 Mar

A snippet of news that might be of interest, the

A snippet of news that might be of interest, the Welsh Government has bought Cardiff Airport for £52m from TBI which is a division of Barcelona-based Abertis and runs the airport.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Cardiff Airport is a vital gateway to Wales for business, tourists and general travellers alike. It is essential that its future is secured and that we develop high quality sustainable services. The airport will not be operated by the Welsh Government. It will be managed at arm’s length from government on a commercial basis and, over time, I expect to see a return to the public purse on the investment.”

Lord Rowe-Beddoe will be chairman of the airport board and a chief chief executive will be announced in due course.

Let’s hope that the people put in charge to take on Caridff airport are the best people for the job and they give our First Minister a return for his £52k, interesting that there’s no time scale on when he expects to achieve this. However what also needs thinking about is who is going to fund the running costs of the airport? My other concerns are why did Cardiff lose so many airline carriers, with the obvious loss of much needed revenue? Plus why do so many people living in mid and south Wales use Bristol airport rather than Cardiff?

So it isn’t just the cost of buying Cardiff airport that will give our First Minister an ongoing headache is it?

 
 

Wales View On Food Festivals

25 Mar

Someone has kindly sent me a copy of Wales View 2013 which is published by Visit Wales. Well my original thought was how kind, until I got to the section listing food festivals. There were 27 food festivals listed under various months, but no dates were shown, although websites were given. Potential visitors will not understand why dates haven’t been issued and the onus is on them to search for more details. But until wag food tell us which festivals they are funding this year, some festivals simply cannot risk confirming a date, they are left in limbo. Others like Abergavenny have got their date confirmed and are publicising this already. I’m also sure there is no doubt that the Welsh Perry & Cider festival, with £350k of grant will certainly be able to run this year. As will Pembrokeshire Fish Week, its one day food festival was more than well-funded from various sources, including Visit Wales’ Major Events Unit. Llandysul food festival is listed for June, but I’m certain that this event is not running as a food festival. Welsh Food Festival is listed for August but also sure this isn’t running either.

I understand better than most I guess that in publishing, pages have to look good and you couldn’t run a list of festivals with just a few dates, it would look odd and probably even more puzzling for readers, but IF wag took my advice and got their funded festival list out late in the year, this would have solved this problem, instead of relying on people to read this list and then visit the various websites for more information. Some people are happy about DIY others are simply too lazy, so I’m not happy with this listing.

Flicking through this book I noticed that it had two Managing Editors, one of which, Iestyn George, who was born in Swansea, is now based in Brighton and lectures at Solent Uni. Maybe it’s just me, but I do wish the people that got these jobs actually lived here full-time. But there is a glimmer of good news, this book was designed and printed in Wales –although by two Cardiff companies.

 

 
 

New Head Of WAG Food

22 Mar

Had this lovely, but annoying comment emailed directly through to me from one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, a regular visitor to welshfoodbites. Having read the post on 19th March, titled, New Head Of Food – Seemingly It’s Still A Secret, they decided to do their own investigation by visiting wag’s website. Their amusing description was then of ‘faffing around trying to find ANYTHING’, our producer then finally hit on their Food page, which included an email address to contact the ‘Food team’. Our producer then copied and pasted the email and asked the question as to who was head of food. This morning their email bounced back, saying email is not valid. Our producer then checked once more the email details and all was correct. Our producer’s final comment – Email not valid says everything about WAG and food, I feel!

Well my final comment to wag, yet again, is that communication is the key, but waht message is this saying to anyone interested in Welsh food and trying to using your unfriendly website? Sadly I fail to find a way to get my communication message through to wag food and wouldn’t even bother trying any further with wag as a whole.

‘TIME, WASTE OF’ please re-arrange unless you too have run out of patience!!!!

 

 
 

£50m Deficit For Natural Resources Wales

22 Mar

I’ve posted recently about the promotion of Alun Davies to Minister of Natural Resources & Food but then been queried as to what on earth the government classed as natural resources. So hope the following helps:

In April, Natural Resources Wales takes over following a merger of three environment bodies. However the new environment organisation, set up by the Welsh Government is facing a £50m pension deficit.

The merger was undertaken aiming aimed at saving £158m over ten years. The Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission are being merged to form a single organisation Natural Resources Wales. Deputy Minister Alun Davies has recently been promoted to Minister of Natural Resources & Food so this is now all down to him. Although the IT system designed to make it operate is not ready and the pension debt is larger than first thought.

The business case for the merger allocated £19m to cover the pension debt of amalgamating staff into a single organisation, but the Welsh Government has told BBC Wales it could cost around £50m. Someone in government has a problem doing his sums methinks!

Although there are seemingly a few other options available the government is asked to approve the £50m choice as the “only option that has a degree of certainty” of being achievable by 1 April when the new organisation will be formed.

There are further problems with the amount of deficit in the Environment Agency pension schemes still unresolved.

Jon Owen Jones, chairman of Forestry Commission Wales said there were “several problems”. He said: “They’ve got an IT system they can’t get to work as quickly as they like; they’ve got a IT system that’s going to cost more than they anticipated; they’ve got a pension system that’s going to cost more than they’ve anticipated and, they’ve got services they’re going to buy in from England that are going to cost more than they’ve anticipated.”

Emyr Roberts, chief executive of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) concedes the IT system is unlikely to work properly for a year or two.

I’m sure quite a few of you will find this of interest and no, and no I’m not getting on my soap-box yet again about value-for-money, there really is no point is there? But I was very concerned to be told that these three ‘quangos’ totalled 2,000 in staff numbers. Two thousand staff, I find that so hard to believe, what do 2,000 people do? I hope my source was wrong on that staff figure, but I doubt it.

 

 

 
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Chanceller Pledges A Penny Off A Pint

20 Mar

Welsh Country magazine has many beer producers with us on our Best Of Welsh & Borders listing and I’m sure they’ll be relieved that not only has duty on beer not been increased by the proposed above-inflation 3p beer duty planned this year by the previous Labour government, but The Chancellor has promised to take a penny off a pint. Actually cutting beer duty which is a much needed boost for at least one sector of our food producers cures and publicans.

Osborne stated that 10,000 pubs have closed in the past decade, Osborne said that curbing “the biggest discounts of cheap alcohol at retailers” without making responsible drinkers “pay the price” was a difficult balancing act.

The cut will take effect from Sunday night 24th March.

I did say I try and find some good news stories and hopefully this can be classed as one for some of you

 
 

UK Government Gives Wales More Money

20 Mar

The Chancellor’s Budget gives an additional £161m of capital spending to The Welsh Government. The Wales Office of the UK government said the Budget is set to have a fair and positive impact in Wales and will bring the total amount of additional capital spending power granted to the Welsh Government over the spending review period to more than £858m.

Welsh secretary David Jones said: “The measures announced by the Chancellor today are intended to stabilise the country’s finances, restore business confidence, and ensure private sector growth. They show that the UK Government is laying the foundations for economic growth by taking decisive action. I was pleased to see that the Welsh Government will receive an additional £161m of capital funding as a result of this Budget. It is now up to the First Minister and his team to set their own priorities and use this funding to invest in high-quality infrastructure, including any shovel-ready projects waiting for the financial backing to get off the ground. We remain committed to working with the Welsh Government and continuing our positive discussions on the funding options for improving the M4 in South Wales. I was also particularly pleased to see that the priorities of the members of my Business Advisory Group, to see an increase in capital funding for Wales, and the introduction of the National Insurance Contribution allowance were reflected in the Budget today. What this Budget shows is that this government is determined to pave the way for a sustainable economic recovery. We are creating the conditions to help businesses in Wales to start, grow and develop, to help individuals care for their families and to support everyone’s aspirations for a more prosperous Wales.”

At the risk of boring you with one on my ongoing themes, I can only hope someone, somewhere in the Welsh Government will take on board that if they are able to ensure value for money is achieved with this extra money – not to mention that already allocated to them – then Wales might make some progress. Hold your breath at your peril on this thought though!!!

 

 
 

Ruthin Produce Market Is No More

20 Mar

I’m looking forward to posting a positive post but so far I’m failing as another market bites the dust. I think this is the third market I’ve been told quite recently that has now ceased trading. This time it’s Ruthin Produce Market, which not too long ago relocated to the Ruthin’s original market place, Market Street. My grapevine tells me that this was a very good quality market, with some great producers. Sadly it is one of quite a few markets that haven’t visited. I’m told that Ruthin market has closed because the volunteers just found it too much additional work for them. That’s a real shame because a few more volunteers could have lightened their workload, but seemingly that couldn’t be sorted. This is quite a common problem with producers. There are quite a large number that complain a lot, but not many will put in the extra work needed to keep these volunteer-run markets going. The general excuse is that they’re too busy, but the result is more markets closing will hit their pockets and make life even tougher that it already is.

Make no mistake I’ll continue to push and work hard for our producers with us on Best Of Welsh & Borders. But there is no way I can say I enjoy hitting my head continuously on the wag wall. I’ve never been backwards in coming forwards, telling our producers if I think they have got it wrong. Honesty is the best policy isn’t it? I’ve always tried to be constructive, becasue I think that’s the best way to win an arguement. It’s how I try to work with wag too, but as you gather by welshfoodbites, that’s not easy either as I hit brick wall after brick wall. At the end of the day Welsh Country magazine is the strongest food title Wales has and after all these years if we cannot work together to improve the lot of food producers, then something is seriously wrong.

In my book, anohter market closure is a disaster for the genuinely micro/small producers who are so reliant on markets and festivals to sell their produce. As I understand it our Welsh markets are run by a mix of councils, of course with staff we pay for, but many others like Ruthin are totally dependent on volunteers. Now as if this market folding isn’t bad enough, let’s just give a thought to Ruthin itself and the loss this will be to the local shop traders too. I remember visiting the monthly held Mumbles Local Produce market and after the market wound down I spent a few hours in the town chatting to local shopkeepers asking them their view of the market. They were unanimous in saying they loved their local market, their only wish was that it was weekly not monthly!

I have never had a clear idea on a practical level, how the £800k fork2fork campaign was going to help farmers’ markets, which  was one of the project’s roles along with box schemes and farm shops. But my view has not changed in that I don’t think it worked. So dear reader, with this project now extended for another year, plus a further £100k in their kitty, £43,761 of which will be spent on additional activity for the website and some further information circulation, have you any need to worry about the future of markets, box schemes and farm shops?

Answers not on a postcard please just post or email me direct if you prefer. But your identity on this site will remain confidential, you have my word.

 
 

New Head Of Food – Seemingly It’s Still A Secret

19 Mar

Rumours have been running rife about the person taking over the role of Head of Food following interviews held in January.

So following a telephone call into our office, which I must add, was not from a civil servant, but I decided that for once I’d do as I was told! Mmm, thought that might amuse you all, but that’s just what I did. ‘Kath if you want questions answered, talk to the Press Office’ or as of late, I’m told to: ‘submit any future enquiries in writing through the press desk and they will be dealt with in the usual manner’. Those are my orders and on this occasion I did just that. So follows is what happened……..

On Monday I emailed the Press Office for them to confirm or deny the rumour I’d been told. My source was good but thought it was worth double-checking. But I got no response. So in the afternoon I emailed another contact in the Press Office. Again there was no response. Today Tuesday, I emailed the two same contacts once again………well emailing yet again does give me something to do, doesn’t it?

Well in a way it was third time lucky, because I’m then told that the Press Office do not comment on personnel matters. So if you are in any doubt why I dislike ‘talking to wag’s press offices,’ maybe this will make it clearer. As a journalist I always try to clarify facts but I’ve never had such trouble getting information before. All I’m trying to do is my job, but follow the line given to me by the Press Office, has proved useless as they will neither confirm of deny what I’ve asked. As I’ve already stated, it was not a civil service mole that gave me this information, which means fairly solid rumours are already out there. I’m still sure my source is reliable but any suggestions about where I go next will be welcomed!!!

So with journalistic nose still to the wag grindstone, I contact wag food in Aberystwyth and was given their version of ‘no comment’. Wag’s Secret Service maintain their silence, whilst after four emails I’m left none the wiser.

Seemingly there’s no trust from the Press Office’s side or wag food’s come to that with me, possibly it’s all down to welshfoodbites, but in my view they are missing the point. If they say ‘off the record’ that’s how it will be. If I was a red top tabloid journalist I could understand their silence and suspicions and maybe if Wales had red tops the attitude would change, who knows? However I find the situation I’m left in unacceptable, bearing in mind how hard my team and I work for wag food. To say the least, this is disappointing and I’m trying to stay polite but you can guess what I’m thinking.

I’m fed-up of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers asking me who’s got the top food job, but I’m certain none of them will bother to ring wag food as I suggest, but I cannot put into print their reasons why they will not ring wag. So there you are guys that’s the latest no news post…………

 
 

Aberystwyth Meat Plant Has Suspension Lifted

19 Mar

Following the horsemeat scandal which broke in January, The Food Standards Agency, FSA, suspended operations at Farmbox Meats, Aberystwyth.

The FSA has now decided to lift the suspension of the approval of the cutting plant which means it will be allowed to operate under conditional approval. This approval expires on 5th April 2013 when a decision will be taken as to whether the plant should be granted full approval to operate.

The FSA states that it has required the plant to provide guarantees before being allowed to operate again and that it “will not hesitate to withdraw its approval if there is sufficient evidence that there is non-compliance with all requirements placed on food business operators”.

 

 
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