Archive for March, 2013

In Case Of Interest – Here’s The New Cabinet

18 Mar

Press release that has had to be taken off wag’s website:  

On Thursday 14th March, First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced his new cabinet to continue delivering the ambitious Programme for Government, grow the Welsh economy and create a country of opportunity and social justice.

One new Minister has joined the cabinet; academic in the field of social policy and former Chair of the Health Committee, Professor Mark Drakeford has been appointed Health Minister. Former Health Minister Lesley Griffiths has been appointed Minister for Local Government, with responsibility for Government Business.

The First Minister has also created a new refocused Communities and Tackling Poverty portfolio under Huw Lewis, which will renew the Government’s efforts in tackling poverty, creating opportunity for all and mitigating the worst effects of the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda.

Former Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant becomes Minister for Housing and Regeneration; former Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies has been appointed Minister for Natural Resources and Food, while Former Environment Minister John Griffiths becomes Minister for Culture and Sport. Announcing his new cabinet team, First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Jobs and growing the Welsh economy remain our number one priority,but we will also work tirelessly to improve the delivery of our public services. My commitment to do everything we can to stand up for the people of Wales, particularly in these challenging times, remains firm. That is why I have created a new portfolio dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest in our country, building strong communities and creating opportunities for all. I am delighted to have such a strong and committed team who share my vision of a strong and vibrant Wales, where everyone has the opportunity for fulfil their potential.”

Welsh Government Cabinet

Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM
First Minister of Wales

Edwina Hart AM OStJ MBE
Minister for Economy, Science and Transport

Prof Mark Drakeford AM
Minister for Health

Huw Lewis AM
Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty

Lesley Griffiths AM
Minister for Local Government (& Government Business)

Jane Hutt AM
Minister for Finance

John Griffiths AM
Minister for Culture and Sport

Leighton Andrews AM
Minister for Education (& Welsh Language)

Carl Sargeant AM
Minister for Housing and Regeneration

Alun Davies AM
Minister for Natural Resources and Food

Deputy Ministers

Gwenda Thomas AM
Deputy Minister for Social Services

Jeff Cuthbert AM
Deputy Minister for Skills & Technology


Guess Who’s Got A Promotion?

15 Mar

No not me! Late this morning I received a press release from wag about Alun Davies giving the opening address at the Dairy Conference. At the moment, as we don’t put wag press releases on, we simply sent around our Best Of Welsh & Border producers – it’s important that we keep our guys in the Welsh food loop. What I failed to notice is that Mr Davies has been promoted to the Minister for Natural Resources and Food!!! Well that’s great news for him isn’t it?

This press release was quickly followed by another press release, this time from NFU Cymru. Their first line stated: In responding to the news that Alun Davies AM has been promoted to the position of Minister for Natural Resources and Food.

I’m surprised that wag didn’t think Mr Davies’ promotion to the rank of Minister warranted a press release of it’s own, but what do I know?






Where’s Our Value-For-Money?

13 Mar

Value-for-money is a phrase I churn out with increasing regularity and perhaps even more so as the recession hit Wales as hard as anywhere and there are so few signs on our economy up-turning.

I was chatting to a producer this week and was pleased to hear that this professional was so much in agreement with Welsh Country magazine and welshfoodbites. One phrase that kept re-occurring in our conversation was value-for-money. I’ll need to take care not to bore you by going back and citing instances over the last eight years, so let’s just look at two examples that I’ve recently posted about.

So apologises for going back to FBA again and the extension of the Fork2Fork project. Fork2Fork were awarded £800k for their 2 year project and then asked for and were given an extension which is completed on 31st March 2014. The sum involved for this extension is comprised of (approximately) £55,000 for a second national conference that was supposedly delivered in 2012 and a further £43,761 for additional activity for the website and some further information circulation.

Our chat continued over these two ‘donations’ and we asked if a private company would authorise these two spends? Would the Chief Executive, the Company Director or the Managing Director sign off these amounts for payment? Would they be convinced that is was worth spending £55k on a conference, without considering carefully what would this conference achieve? Then there is a further £43,761 for additional activity on a website and some further information circulation. Nearly £44k in a year for these weak objectives is farcical. No business person in the private sector would even consider this spend and if any staff member had they’d have been laughed out of the boardroom – if it got that far – or at least re-assigned this person to a new post as a the company Jester.

My apologies from bringing humour into this post, I shouldn’t have, because I’m not alone in being concerned about this serious situation. It’s serious wastage and can never be classed as value-for-money, which I understood Minister for Business, Enterprise & Technology, Edwina Hart wanted to see. The point appears to be because it is not private money there is little value in it. But would these civil servants agree to these silly projects if it was their own money they were spending? Now how likely is that?

The Fork2Fork project and its extension have been funded from the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme. Sadly I have no inside knowledge as to how this scheme, in theory really works, sorry I know in actual fact that it doesn’t, but what I’m trying to get at is do a group of civil servants decide this extension is worthy and then the Head Honcho civil servant signs it off? I’ve tried to get answers to my questions but failed, actually to be truthful I believe I’ve been blocked, I’ve fallen victim again to wag’s clever game of smoke and mirrors, fobbing off, you can stick your own label on it I’m sure. But watch out wag, you’ve seriously upset me once more and I’m not at all happy.

I’ve now had to return to Freedom Of Information questions and to wait 20 days for responses. After wasting more of time I’m not holding out much hope, but if I’m blocked again, maybe a chat with M/s Hart will be useful. If she’s seriously looking for value-for-money then she’ll find my examples of interest I’m sure.

Meanwhile, I’ve updated my welshfoodbites blog, we sent around some updated food information to our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, but without any funding……….

So now I’m back to working on our next issue of Welsh Country magazine, M/June.




Another Survey – This Time Tourism

11 Mar

I had another communication through from Visit Wales today, which I though I’d highlight for you, it’s about the Welsh Government’s Strategy for Tourism, 2013 – 2020. The information was the recommendations of the Tourism Sector Panel

I don’t see it as my job to promote and assist Visit Wales, on an unpaid basis. If/when they work with us that will change, but until then, only those that are with us on Welsh Country magazine, will have received the full details of Tourism 2020 in full as it was sent around to you this morning. So there’s no excuse for any of you not filling in yet another survey! THere’s no need for you to thank me for being kind and thoughtful to you all ………………… but if you have trouble sleeping, this might help.

Meanwhile I have just copied and pasted two small sections for your interest.

A new vision and ambition

The Panel proposes the following vision for tourism:

Wales will exceed expectations as a tourism destination and develop a reputation for delivering outstanding quality, excellent value for money and memorable, distinctive experiences: we will offer a warm welcome that means every visitor who leaves us wants to come back.

The goal is to drive:

Sustainable growth in tourism that delivers jobs and wealth for the Welsh economy and supports a profitable tourism industry.

The ambition is to:

Grow tourism earnings in Wales by 20% or more by 2020.

Well ambitious this certainly is, with 20% growth or more by 2020. But gee whiz, we at Welsh Country magazine are talking to too many involved in tourism that wonder if they’ll be still trading next year, citing amongst many things our season is too short, visitors are lacking and not spending much when they do visit, and that’s without even mentioning the weather, which in fairness even Visit Wales can’t control!!

I’ve scanned through this information very quickly, looking of course for food and follows is all I could find, apologies if I have missed anything else food related.

Food and Drink: High quality local ingredients, distinctive food and drink and interesting places to eat are increasingly important to visitors. Our best hospitality businesses are earning a reputation for excellence but there is more that needs to be done to increase the number of world-class food destinations and to promote and deliver quality Welsh food and drink as part of the overall visitor experience. Not only will this help to distinguish Wales from its competitors but it will bring more direct economic benefits by strengthening local supply chains between producers and tourism businesses. 

Major events and festivals: Events and festivals are very important to tourism in Wales, as essential ingredients of the visitor experience providing a showcase for our heritage and culture. They facilitate community involvement and offer an experience that is distinctively Welsh. Opportunities exist to selectively support new events that can enhance the reputation of Wales, but it is also important to put weight behind existing events which have the potential to grow and are helping to change perceptions of Wales. 

I’m struggling to understand what is meant by ‘increase the number of world-class food destinations’, but there again I rarely understand civil-service speak, hopefully you might! What I do understand quite clearly, is the promotion of quality Welsh food and drink as part of the visitor experience, my huge concern is how Visit Wales they expect this to be delivered. That message has not got through to sufficient areas of Welsh tourism and is in my mind a basic, so why are we not better at it? At least festivals are mentioned, and I’m assuming that would include food rather than say music, but I wonder how much of Visit Wales’ Major Events’ budget will go towards food festivals and which ones will be favoured? Last year I could only find that Pembrokeshire Fish Week got £25k from the MEU as well as £31,671 from the wag food festival budget, funding from the council and sponsorship too. So that needs looking at again.

I’m concerned about this vision for 2020, and if you are too, fill in the survey and talk to your AM’s. 2020 is a long time to plan for, but maybe wag/visitwales have the inside track as to when the recession will end here in Wales and know when some green shoots will appear…………………………………..







Further Statement on Horsemeat In Wales

08 Mar

Written statement released today from Alun Davies AM, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes.

Following my written statement on the 26th February I would like to update members on the latest position on the contamination of beef products that first came to our attention on the 15th January.

My officials and I have consulted with other UK devolved administrations and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and I am now reassured that we understand the breadth and depth of the problem. Consequently, I now believe that we need to put in place mechanisms and structures that will allow us to isolate and manage the problem whilst at the same time moving to recover from the incident and to reassure the general public that the food chain is fundamentally safe and secure. There is also a need to reflect on the events of the last few weeks and I, as well as the FSA, will be thinking of the long term implications of this incident and how we have responded to it.

On Wednesday I met with senior enforcement and procurement officers from local government and the Welsh Local Government Association to hear first hand how they have been dealing with these matters. It is clear to me that there has been a great deal of commitment from the whole of the Welsh public sector to work with industry and laboratories to tackle this issue and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved. With over 5400 tests completed in six weeks and with more tests to come, this is indeed testimony to the commitment of the industry to address concerns as quickly as possible. It is also appropriate that I extend my own gratitude to the FSA, who have provided significant support and leadership in managing the situation.

I have agreed with the WLGA and the FSA that we will work together to develop a more rigorous testing regime for the Welsh public sector to underpin and secure public confidence in future procurement arrangements. This will include a robust testing regime, an examination of the control and length of supply chain together with raising the awareness of the legal responsibilities incumbent on the supply sector that will guard against food fraud and wider food contamination issues in the public services supply chain. We must ensure the integrity of our food and the public must have confidence in the food they are consuming.  Welsh local authorities will reassert to all food businesses that the responsibility for producing food that is safe and accurately labelled sits with each and every food business, whether primary producer, processor, wholesaler or retailer.

I have already made a commitment to a review of the enforcement measures available to us in Wales. I may also wish to expand this work to see how the Welsh Government and other institutions have reacted to this incident. I will make a further announcement on this matter in due course where I will provide details on the scope and terms of reference of this review.

This incident has clearly had, and will continue to have, a significant effect on consumer attitudes. The FSA’s recent consumer survey found that consumer confidence in processed meat products has fallen considerably which in turn has affected actual sales figures and the viability of some processing businesses.

In my view the Government has a responsibility to address the issue of consumer confidence and we will continue to support our meat industry and to rebuild confidence amongst consumers.  Last Wednesday I began this process by launching a poster campaign for Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef with Hybu Cig Cymru. On St David’s day I visited the Tesco store in Talbot Green to lend my support for the fantastic range of Welsh products available.

This has been a very difficult time for all aspects of the meat production industry and many people and businesses have suffered because of the potential negligence or criminality of a tiny minority. The Welsh Government will continue to support both the enforcement and regulatory regimes that are in place. We also continue to support the FSA and police investigations that are underway. We will now place our emphasis on rebuilding consumer confidence and putting in place measure to underpin that confidence.

So there you have the official version of how the Welsh Government are reacting to the horsemeat fiasco.

As you are aware I’m not impressed with HCC’s latest poster campaign, but it appears the Deputy Minster is, which is great news for HCC. Neither am I impressed that on St David’s Day our Deputy Minister visited a Tesco store and thought that worthy news to include in his statement. Well if I was in his shoes, heaven forbid I can hear you saying, I’d have visited as many independent butchers that I could, along with some farmers’ markets. Mr Davies’ team of civil servants must think his time is best spent supporting a large and powerful supermarket instead of those working at the tough end of the meat sector.……………………………


Pork Takes Centre Stage Say HCC

08 Mar

I’ve just been told by HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru, that pork takes centre stage, when in my view Welsh pork has never even been on HCC’s stage. In fairness I do have to congratulate HCC for being better late than never in recognising that Wales does have pork producers. That’s great news after all my hard work for posting on this topic, but there’s no need to thank me HCC, I enjoy helping you, really I do!!!!

Now back to pork and the gist of the news from HCC is that they have now produced a recipe booklet that highlights how pork can be easily combined with flavours from around the world. Apparently this booklet is available at independent Welsh butchers and multiple retailers. But don’t forget that HCC can obviously only send their booklet to those Welsh butchers that have contacted HCC to tell them they exist.

I’ve spent considerable time asking HCC for the number of independent butchers in Wales, but they can’t give me this information, so make from that what you will! Welsh Country magazine has pork producers with us on our Best Of Welsh & Borders listing, and they are not happy that HCC have ignored them for so long whilst they focus on Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb. You’ll no doubt we aware that Wales has PGI logos for beef and lamb, but nothing for pork, hence it’s not been a priority for HCC, only for our pork producers. HCC say they have produced this brochure for retailers as part of their campaign to support the Welsh pig industry – well I’m sure I will not be alone in saying about time too, but many thanks.

HCC believe that shoppers will be inspired by this booklet and then support their local pork producers, well only time will tell on that one, but as I’ve already said, at last HCC are doing something for Welsh pork.

The press release from HCC arrived this morning and was promptly sent around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers that are involved in the Welsh meat sector. But within the hour we had an email back from one butcher asking if we had this in pdf format!!! Not sure why as yet, but it doesn’t sound to me as though he’s received a supply……………………………………..


Butchers’ Week

07 Mar

Some interesting producer comments about meat are on the Welsh Country website


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Crown At Whitebrook Closes

07 Mar

Ranked by some people as the top restaurants in Wales, The Crown at Whitebrook, has closed after its takings took a hit from harsh January weather. The Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms in Monmouthshire was named best restaurant in Wales in the Sunday Times’ Food List 2012.

The business was headed by director Michael Davies with Chef James Sommerin seen as the driving force behind the restaurant’s reputation. The company behind the Crown tried other ventures, including the Crown Social restaurant at the Parc Thistle hotel in Cardiff and the Crown at Celtic Manor. Both have now closed.

In accounts for the end of March 2012, Crown Hotels & Restaurants reported £646,000 due to creditors within one year, up from £338,000 a year earlier. Net liabilities stood at £387,000, up from £344,000.

Sad news for all concerned.

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Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme

06 Mar

On 28th January I posted giving you the news that Fork2Fork had received additional funding for their project. Just to recap for you, Fork2Fork are allowed, under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, SCES, to ask for an extension. So to translate that into simple language, FBA/Fork2Fork are allowed to go back to SCES and ask for extra cash. All that they are required to do is come up with a project of their own design and deliver it against aims and objectives that they have set themselves. Sounds easy-peasy from where I’m sat, or should I say easy extra money.

I’ve been told that FBA/Fork2Fork are in receipt of an additional £55k for the second national conference, which I’m told was  delivered in 2012, but I thought it took place at the Winter Fair in 2011. Could there possibly have been two conferences? Now how many of you attended and think £55k is a fair and realistic sum for fork out, sorry poor pun, for a conference in Wales. Then there was a further £43,761 for additional activity for the website, along with some further information circulation and an extension to the independent evaluation as the project will now run over a longer period.

In my quest to get wag to focus on value-for-money, my bone of contention with this is how FBA/Fork2Fork managed to persuade the SCES that a further £43,761 is worthwhile funding for a website which has diabolical rankings? Would anyone being of sound mind and not forking out – sorry can’t resist another pun – spending their own money, think this a sensible spend? Does the Welsh Government need a sharp reality check that value-for-money is vital?

To add some balance to this silly saga, I’m not the first person to raise the subject of Fork2Fork website rankings, but that person didn’t make much progress getting a sensible response either.

Figures can’t lie so I have just been onto Fork2Fork and checked their rankings through Alexa, which are: 6,665,342, welshfoodbites is: 338,306 and welshcountry is 328,504 as the lower figure means the higher ranking I think that is proof, if further proof were needed, which sites is working. Any guesses for working out which one is funded could claim a prize if one was offered!!!!

Having said that, I am totally surprised and furious that I’ve now had a second meeting to discuss SCES, cancelled by wag, both at the 11th hour. Proof that I’m not important with wag, I think that probably goes without saying doesn’t it? But I’m now being told to talk to the press office, yes guys, the press office that in the past has refused to answer any of my questions!!

So from an Freedom Of Information Act question sent through at the end of November, I’m no further forward getting my questions answered. A game of smoke and mirrors, having to jump through wag hoops, trudge through treacle, wasting more and more of my time,  stick any label on this that you wish, but it is not an acceptable situation and I’m far from happy.



Scotland Sets Up Two Food Groups

05 Mar

Now stop that cheering, I’m not moving to Scotland!!! I’m simply passing onto you some information which might be of interest. Scotland are setting    up two expert food groups following the recent horse meat issue.

One group will advise on any changes required to the FSA in Scotland ahead of the creation of the new stand-alone Food Standards body in Scotland. The second group will look at the Scottish food industry’s work on traceability and provenance. Quality Meat Scotland will be asked to look into extending the Scotch label into the processing sector.

This was announced in the Scottish Parliament when confirmation was given that almost 50 per cent of meat processing premises in Scotland have so far been inspected, with no evidence of horse meat found to date.

Scottish local authorities are carrying out inspections visits to all 229 approved meat processing premises and 29 cold stores, 60% of these inspections have already started, with 47% completed to date.