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Archive for July, 2013

Welsh Government Food Policy Unit

31 Jul

I thought I’d make some enquiries about the Food Policy Unit and asked under Freedom Of Information Question Reference ATISN 7448

I asked:

  1. The Welsh Government Food Policy Unit are doing another survey into Research into levels of primary produce processed in Wales. Was this survey put out for tender?
  2. Which companies submitted tender applications?
  3. When was the tender awarded?
  4. What is the completion date for this tender?
  5. What is the Welsh Government paying Brookdale Consulting his tender?
  6. When will the review be published and available to the press and public?
  7. The 2013-2014 Monitoring & Evaluation of Food Festivals Supported by the Welsh Government, was this put out to open tender or from framework?

The official reply shown in full is as follows:

1.     The survey was put out to tender.

2    The companies which submitted tenders were ADAS UK (Ltd), Brookdale Consulting and Miller Consulting.

3.     The tender was awarded on 24 May 2013.

4.     The completion date is 30 September 2013.

5     £22,860 inclusive of VAT

6.     This matter is still under review and no date has yet been set.

7.     The 2013-2014 Monitoring and Evaluation of Food Festivals was undertaken from Framework.

 It is surprising that there is no official date as to when this report will be published, but as we are still waiting for the food festival evaluation report for 2012, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all – I am talking about government here after all. As to what it will achieve after this £22,860 spend, well we’ll just have to wait and see…..!

 
 

Are HCC Supporting Farmers?

31 Jul

Two booklets published by HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru,  the Decade of Success and the Royal Welsh Show 2013 Food and Drink Wales state that HCC ‘works with Farmers Markets’.

That puzzled our team as we are regularly ‘got at’ by butchers who say that HCC do little if anything for them, HCC is focused on supermarkets and exports, not butchers. But in case I was missing something in the world of Welsh meat, HCC was asked to clarify.

Their response was as follows:
With regards to your question, HCC has supported farmers markets in different ways over the years. For example, we have given cooking demonstrations at several markets, including Riverside in Cardiff. We have also provided farmers who sell at these markets with promotional material. Farm shops that sell PGI Welsh Lamb or PGI Welsh Beef have also been provided with material which includes recipe booklets, posters, etc.

I’m afraid I didn’t find that helpful. Citing Cardiff Riverside market is fine but it’s one of the few markets that’s not struggling as much as many others across Wales. Please don’t expect me to believe that what happens in capital reflects what’s going on over the whole of Wales. I find it rather insulting that HCC will come out with a statement that they are ‘working with Farmers’ Markets’ is not a serious statement that can be followed through.

HCC have now been asked what they have done for specific Farmers’ Markets in the last twelve months. I’ll make sure their answer is passed onto you.  

My other concern, that has been raised quite a few times on welshfoodbites is that HCC go on and on about how supportive they are to farmers and retailers that sell PGI Welsh lamb and beef, but if they are doing such a good job with PGI, then why are we talking to butchers who have no idea what PGI is? Whoops, sorry, maybe those are the butchers that haven’t yet told HCC that they are butchers with a shop in Wales, so hopefully HCC can add them to their database and then send them out some literature. I apologise for forgetting the onus is on our butchers to tell HCC they are trading, which is perhaps just one of the reasons that HCC still cannot tell me how many independent butchers there are in Wales.

No point wasting further time with HCC but I do wonder how many readers of Welsh Country magazine, i.e. our Welsh Joe Public, have heard of or have a clue just what PGI is all about………………………..

A further comment from on HCC states: HCC do not give direct financial aid to any farmers markets. As previously mentioned,
what we do is give those farmers and butchers who sell PGI Welsh Lamb or PGI Welsh Beef and who have stalls at farmers markets the same promotional assistance that we give other retailers that sell PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh
Beef.

Well I think most of us in the industry are aware that HCC do not support financially any farmers’ markets, but seemingly Riverside was in favour with HCC at some stage  with a cookery demonstration. Wowee! So when HCC publish booklets that are for the public too, saying they support farmers’ markets, what they actually mean is that they support farmers and butchers that are involved with PGI. Well why can’t HCC be up front and say just that?  Aren’t the Welsh public confused enough without HCC adding to it?

Talk about knocking you head against a brick wall ………………………………….

Ian’s taken the trouble to email farmers’ markets asking what support they’ve had from HCC – three replies back within literally 10 minutes saying: That’s easy – nothing! And another saying None. I doubt HCC know we exist.

Haven’t time to update this with any further responses but starting off with 3 so quickly is something, but it’s so annoying  with this feedback and I can only wish that HCC can take it on board.

 
 

Conti’s Café, Lampeter

29 Jul

Regular readers will know of my penchant for good coffee and smiley, friendly service. So I couldn’t miss an opportunity to check out Conti’s Café in Lampeter before visiting the food festival. Gosh I was so pleased I did!

It’s some time since I was in Conti’s and I know the premises have undergone a massive refurbishment. I was just hoping everything else remained unchanged and by that I mean the coffee and the service. Well yippee, the mocha coffees Ian and I had were absolutely delicious and there was no sign of surly service. Instead all the staff, and they were actually all quite young, were smiling, pleasant and very polite and I was a very happy bunny!!! It shows that they have not only been well trained, but are happy in their work. Café’s are a service industry and if staff cannot get to grips with that – they are in the wrong job even if it’s only a temporary one. I’m sorry to rant on about a simple thing like good service but I wouldn’t if it wasn’t so uncommon.

I had no idea that Conti’s have been trading in Wales since 1946, that is incredible, 1946!!! But Conti’s don’t just do wonderful coffee though; they do delicious ice-cream, homemade cakes, super salads and snacks, as well as old fashioned sweets.

Owner Jo should be incredibly proud, not only of the clever re-building work that she’s achieved, but of the clever way she has sill managed to keep the character of the property and the wonderful atmosphere that has been created there. Locals love it and I’m sure word-of-mouth is making it the place so go for a chill out. Locals have also been very supportive but there are also many visitors, like me, that enjoy spending time in delightful places like Conti’s.

This is one place that will go on my visit-again-list for sure and hope that if you’re ever in the area you’ll pop in and enjoy your visit as much as I did.

 

 

 
 

Fabulous Food Festival At Lampeter

29 Jul

Thankfully this is a fairly local festival for me and it’s sited in the impressive grounds of the Lampeter campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The setting is superb for a food festival and they had wonderful support from over 70 food stands, many of which are with us as our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW,  so that always puts me in a cheery mood. But as much as I like seeing our BOW producers, I much prefer it if they are too busy to talk to me, but having said that, I still wanted some feedback from those that had also attended the RWAS during the week. Producers that had done both events must have been mentally and physically shattered, four or five days at the Welsh with barely a day’s break in between and then onto Lampeter. But Lampeter certainly beat RWAS in the warm welcome stakes. They were blessed with wonderful weather until about 4.00ish when some rain came in but a huge achievement to be running for 16 years.

There was plenty of signage going in and that had been up some time which I was delighted to see, as you well know that’s one of my regular moans. Rebecca Jones was the lady in charge of PR & Marketing and she’d done a good job, so no complaints there either, especially as there was an exhibitors’ stand list on their website, plus they were all included in the free festival programme with their website details too, another bonus!  There was no charge to go in either so it was a very pleasant start to the day and pleased Lampeter could sort out their budget to avoid having to charge on the gate. Lampeter was funded by wag the festival asked for £7k and got £7k not sure why they didn’t ask for £10k because; in my opinion they’d have deserved it. Ideally I wouldn’t site stands together if they were both doing jars, i.e. jams and chutneys, but that I guess is just giving the orgnaisers even more work to do! I was pleased to see quite a few stands that were new to Ian and I and one enterprising stand, Amanda Jane’s of Anglesey also doing Summer Punch over ice – smart move – but I bet other traders will follow their lead on that one at the next festival!!!

The craft fair was moved from the attractive quadrangle area which I always thought worked well and that was now under one tent near the music stage and had been handed over to the Ceredigion Craft Makers. Stand numbers were down but I do think that many craft people are finding the economic climate very tough. So it certainly didn’t work for the craft makers and I think perhaps wag worried some organisers about having too many craft stands, but I do think craft stands can keep people there longer, which means perhaps the food guys can sell to them again later in the day. I can see wag have no wish to fund cheap craft stall but if craft are paying as much if not more than food stalls it should still benefit the festival overall.

Ian and I were there from ten until four so we had lots of time to chat and that we certainly did. There’s no grapevine as good as our food grapevine! Generally feedback from Lampeter was good, and I think that is purely down to the hard-working committee who has managed to create a really friendly and very worthwhile event. Lampeter were not only lucky with the warm weather, giving it very much a garden party atmosphere but they manage to improve the festival each year and you cannot ask for more than that, can you? Feedback from Lampeter was very positive with some traders running out of stock. Great news, but annoying for them that they’d not taken more with them, but you just can’t judged it right every time, that’s impossible. The general feedback from Rwas was fairly positive, although some traders did take more at Caerphilly Big Cheese over the weekend than they’d done in 4 days at the Rwas.

Although I don’t live in Lampeter, I was pleased to see a few local people that I knew attending. This festival is gradually building up tremendous support from locals and I hope they can continue to do so in the future. One familiar face that I’d bumped into at the Rwas on Monday was Mark Williams, Ceredigion’s hard-working MP; it was good to have another quick chat with him. I also understand that AM Elin Jones paid a visit to the festival as well, so two VIPS is more good news for Lampeter.

There was a change in the original layout as the committee had moved the music and main seating area away from the food stands. I much preferred the festival this way as it meant the producers could chat easily to the visitors and of course this is what it’s all about. There was still an active music stage area, alongside plenty of activities for children, without any distraction to the trade of food and drink. There were numerous seating areas dotted around the festival and I must say how well used they were. It was brilliant to see so many people buying quality food and drink and sitting down and having a good gossip. What did upset me and I think the only thing that really got me cross on the day, was seeing mobile food vans. There were two if not three in attendance. Now mobile vans I have to accept at agricultural shows to feed the masses, but there’s no way I can accept  them at a food festival. Absolutely not! Lampeter had got some of the best artisan food producers there, which is no mean feat considering there were other food events on that weekend too. But local quality food is what we/they should be promoting and pushing from our artisan producers, not giving pride of place to the likes of Dinky Donuts. Many of the producers were doing a wide range of hot foood from samosas to paella and I can certainly recommend Harmony Herds’ scrumptious boarburgers. I’m not a burger fan, but the quality of these are exceptional with a delicious salsa tomato sauce. When you have got producers of this quality, you should be backing them hook line and sinker. What made this even worse was that two mobile vans were parked next to one of the covered seating areas and the kitchen demo area – not a smart move – but again that’s my opinion.

The cooking area worked well and there was a list of who was cooking and when, plus giving music line-up too on the side of the tent, so another plus point. I think my only helpful comment was perhaps making sure people were told who Vicky North and Simon Wright were, that would have been useful. It also showed in the programme that Lyn Ebenezer was opening the event. Lyn is from Pontrhydfendigaid and is an author and an S4C presenter. Small details, I know but they do matter for visitors from outside the town especially.

I had a quick chat with Chris Thomas, Chair of the festival and was sorry to hear he was stepping down after this year’s event. He has worked hard to continually improve the festival and I wish him well after his marathon slog. I’m certainly not against a change at the top, it’s often a good thing, a new person with often new ideas. Also unless you’ve done this job, it’s so easy to take organisers for granted, forgetting or ignoring how much work is involved. Many of them are usually volunteers with full-time jobs and families to look after as well, so I’m sure Chris will enjoy having more time for himself and can be satisfied that he’s really moved this festival forward.

 
 

I’m Relishing My Rankings

26 Jul

This morning, I remembered check my welshfoodbites rankings as per URL Metrics, difficult keeping on top of everything!!!

It’s thanks to you that they are as good as they are, so hope you’re as pleased with them as I am.

welshfoodbites – UK ranked @ 6,502   – Worldwide @265,221

Fork2Fork        – UK ranked @984,149 -Worldwide@ 8,062,362

Now in case you are not all aware, one of the above sites gets funded through the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, (SCES). But to give you a clue, Fork2Fork have been granted a further £43k to keep their website updated for this year, which is a very good annual salary in Ceredigion.

So do you think SCES will be pleased with their rankings? Well actually that’s irrelevant as SCES have told me that Fork2Fork were granted this extra £43k without taking rankings into account, not sure what was taken into account, if anything, but they have a right to apply for an extension and SCES obviously thought this was a worthwhile cause!

You couldn’t run a business on that basis could you? But it’s different if it’s civil servants doing the spending. But in my view this is a total and utter waste of money. However from SCES’ angles, as it’s not their personal money, it seems ok that it’s just our money that’s wasted – AGAIN.

 
 

National Countryside Week/RWAS

25 Jul

The Prince of Wales announced on Wednesday 24th July at The Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, that more than half a million pounds from one of his charities would be given in grants to help struggling rural communities.

During what is National Countryside Week, The Prince revealed that £564,000 is to be given in grants from The Prince’s Countryside Fund taking the total given to £3.3 million since the Fund launched in 2010.

The Prince of Wales, who is a passionate supporter of rural communities, said, “The point of National Countryside Week is to try and highlight many of the challenges the countryside faces. This year is very special as it falls on the 3rd anniversary of the fund and my grandson’s birthday. 

“I’m delighted to announce £564,000 given in new grants, bringing the total given to 3.3 million pounds helping around 55,000 people.”

The Prince’s Countryside Fund backs projects that tackle the key issues which negatively impact on rural Britain and strives to secure a sustainable future for British agriculture and the wider rural economy. As of today, The Prince’s Countryside Fund has donated £3.3 million in grants in just 3 years to over 75 projects across the UK, helping 52,000 people.  

 
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Update On Saputo

25 Jul

A spokesperson from Carmarthenshire County Council gave us the following news:

Dansco Dairy Ltd acquired SAPUTO early June. Dansco Dairy Ltd are a wholly owned subsidiary of Dairy Partners Ltd.  Dairy Partners Ltd are based in Stonehouse, Gloucs, one of the market leaders in the dairy industry. They manufacture and process cheese, wholesale and distribute to all the main supermarket chains within the UK and with a strong export market.

Staff numbers have reduced from 67 to 25 through both voluntary and involuntary redundancies.

The intention of the new company is to continue shredding mozzarella on site. They wish to recover the milk from local farmers for production on site. They also have major plans for investment in 2014 on site to manufacture and process a dairy product not presently manufactured within the UK. Following the aforementioned then there is every sign of future potential employment in Newcastle Emlyn mid 2014.

The new Company has been awarded a grant by the Welsh Government for the major investment.

Well let’s hope this is a wag investment that pays off!

 
 

Wales The True Taste Tracking Research 2003 – 2012

24 Jul

Firstly I must start this post by saying a huge thank-you to whoever sent me a brown envelope with a note that the contents should be interesting for our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers. The ‘whoever’ wishes to remain anonymous and as always that’s fine with me, I’m just grateful to have some people on my side helping me, ‘cos then I don’t feel quite so lonely!!!

The contents were a report from Beaufort Research who has been tracking the awareness of Welsh Food and Drink plus True Taste for the last 10 years.

So let me quick off with the first set of statistics that highlight that the awareness of Welsh Food has risen by over 10% since 2003 to 2012. Great news but it fails to point out that over the last six years that the awareness has remained static.

So why is that Wag?

Similarly in the early stages of the report it states that Welsh lamb is consistently the most frequently mentioned Welsh food product. Yes I agree with that too, but again it misses out the fact that its recognition is lower in every year since 2004, excepting 2011.

So why is that Wag?

So why is that HCC?

It then continues stating that the purchase of Welsh beef has remained static over the ten years, whilst Welsh lamb purchases have actually gone down.

So why is that Wag?

So why is that HCC?

My observation after reading that is that this is seriously worrying. More so when Wales has its own meat promotion organisation, Hybi Cig Cymru, which last year was funded to the tune of over £6.00 million.

So what has happened there Wag? What’s your explanation?

There is some really good news though and that is that Welsh milk is 7 times more recognised over the past ten years with sales gone up 8 times over the same period. Another Welsh success is eggs, with purchases going up 10 fold. Welsh potatoes also do well with purchases going up 8 times. So it is not all doom and gloom so far, but some serious questions need answering. But will that happen or will this report simply be shelved after another wag box has been suitably ticked? Answers on an email please or just post a comment!!

‘Flavour and wanting to buy local’ are the main reasons cited to buy Welsh produce. However it’s worrying that 20% of Welsh respondents said that they did not know of any Welsh food or drink products, can you believe that? This worsens when another question asked the same thing, this time 66% of the survey said it’s difficult to think of any brands of Welsh food. In addition 14% of the survey said that Welsh products were too expensive and poor value for money.

So why is that Wag?

Food festivals are of course in here and according to this report, 1.18 million of us visited food festivals in 2012. So let me try and put these figures into proportion taking, or guessing that this covers 50 food festivals in 2012. That’s 17 more than wag funded in 2012, so hopefully this is a fair guess and I shouldn’t be too far out. In fact I could be accurate if a festival number had been given, but that would make it too easy for people trying to make sense out of this report, wouldn’t it? If I work on Cardiff, Conwy and Abergavenny each having 50,000 visitors attending, it means that the remaining festivals have a footfall of just short of 22,000 each.  The figures quoted were obtained by interviewing a sample of people across Wales and it is meant to be a representative sample. I’m sure you, dear reader, are cleverer than me to work out what representative actually means.………………………

So what can you and I usefully get out of Beaufort’s Research?

Well to try and help further I must add two more figures into the mix. Only 13% of those asked from the rest of the UK had purchased any Welsh products, and 39% of those from the remainder of the UK either do not know of any Welsh products or have never seen any Welsh food or drink products.

So why is that Wag?

Now you can look at all the figures from different angles and I am sure that Wag will take the very limited number of positives and say what a wonderful job they have done, but there’s nothing new there then. HCC certainly does not come out of this report well, but is not mentioned by name anywhere. Does this show the lack of success of the True Taste as a brand? I’m not totally sure as, to be fair, I doubt if the Great Taste brand would come out any better over the same sample.

What is obvious though is that branding is all important, although I’m not aware of any initiatives to improve branding, which is certainly expensive. But what about the True Taste brand I hear my dear reader cry! Well I’m sorry, in my view, an all encompassing brand will never work. Ian and I have said this for years, because people want to buy Welsh Brew Tea not True Taste Welsh Brew Tea so any encompassing brand will never get the support of all food producers, it will never happen.

Each food producer will promote their own brand. Sorry to sound once again like a stuck record, but as I go around food festivals and markets, the numbers of stall that do not have signage telling people who they are, never mind signage that matches their business cards and letter headings and flyers – I find it really annoying. If producers hunt around a little, talk to other traders, they can buy these things reasonably cheaply. Yes I know it’s difficult and yet another job to do, but it’s important.

I’ve only highlighted a few discrepancies but enough to keep your interest or rage your fury, either way please comment

 
 

Cowbridge Celebrating A Decade Of Food & Drink In Style

24 Jul

Congratulations Cowbridge for sending through another press release for a festival that doesn’t kick off until the end of October. Totally brilliant and makes my life so much easier. It also enables our team to promote this on welshcountry.co.uk and of course on welshfoodbites. Co-incidentally it comes at a time when I’m taking wag food to task again on food festivals not obeying their criteria, but no doubt still claiming their funding.

One of Wales’ most popular food and drink festivals is preparing to mark its 10th anniversary in real style with a host of guaranteed crowd pleasers added to the popular format.

Launched in 2004, the award-winning Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival takes place this year on October 26th/27th and 2013 is gearing up to be the best event yet.

Thousands of food and drink lovers flock to the festival every year to sample some of the best in Welsh produce as well as exotic fare from further afield.

High profile sponsors have been confirmed in the form of HSBC and Waitrose and this year’s brand new wristband ticket system will provide benefits to both town traders and festival goers alike, as shops and bars are encouraged to offer discounts or added extras to those wearing them to draw them into their own establishments.

The ever-popular Champagne marquee will this year move to the bigger Vale Forge site while the Kids’ Zone promises to offer everything a little one could possibly want from a fun day out – all under one roof at Fun Foundations Nursery.

Outdoor activity to entertain the youngsters will also include a Scarecrow Trail around the town – courtesy of sponsorship from Liquorice Laces on Penny Lane.

Craft lovers will enjoy browsing the stalls of the craft fayre in the town hall and extra activities are also planned in the Bear Hotel.

 The Fringe and Entertainment Zone will come together in The Old Hall Gardens, offering entertainment for all the family with musical performances, workshops, discussions and extra stalls to browse.

Run by a volunteer committee, the festival has grown in size from a small one day event to a weekend of festivities involving the whole town, while still retaining its signature intimate atmosphere.

Speaking about the 2013 Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival, festival manager Polly Wilson said:

“More than 12,000 visitors joined us last year and exhibitors considered Cowbridge the Best Festival of its size in Wales – in our tenth year, we’re planning even bigger and better things! We’ve changed and developed several elements of the festival this year that we’re sure will prove a hit with our visitors. Combining The Food Fringe with the Entertainment Zone for example is an exciting prospect, and we’ll be working closely with HubCowbridge in the run up to the event to co-ordinate.  As stalls at the main site always sell out early, this will be a great opportunity for additional food-related businesses to take part and also offers an affordable platform for smaller, local producers to showcase their products – enhancing both visitor and local residents’ experience of the festival, which can only be a good thing.”

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Some Food For Thought From RWAS

24 Jul

Welsh Black Cattle

Had a brief whiz through the RWAS catalogue and noted in the cattle classes that only 33 Welsh Black cattle were entered as opposed to 50 Herefords and a massive 137 Limousin. I find that rather disappointing, especially when we have a Welsh Black Cattle Society and so many restaurants say they have Welsh black meat on their menus.

Press Room

McDonald’s no longer sponsoring the RWAS Press Room.

Taste Of Anglesey

LeadCounty at this year’s Royal Welsh was Anglesey and I did expect when I heard about a taste of Anglesey stand that it might have a stand in the Food Hall – but it wasn’t there and I ended up running out of time and not finding their stand at all.

Lack Of Tables & Chairs

I will highlight again the fact that our Food Hall was planned without any thought of being able to attach a tent on the back or side to accommodate some seating for visitors. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve reprimanded food festivals that fall down in this area but I would have thought that RWAS would have had the foresight to pan sufficient space to be able to do this. If events think of their audience then sitting down, eating and drinking in comfort with your family and friends is high on the list. More so if you have young children, elderly parents, disabled people in your party of someone who’s temporarily on crutches. Food is vital to Wales and to heighten our visitor’s experience, somewhere to sit and eat in comfort is a basic. I can remember about 7 – 8 years ago, so well before the new Food Hall was being thought about, having a meeting at RWAS, Ian and I took along photographs from Burghley Horse Trials, showing their Food Area with all the tables and chairs complete with umbrellas, and a mini tent housing a piano and singers who kept the audience entertained and created and fabulous buzzy atmosphere. People stayed there for ages nipping in and out of the Food area for top-ups. Well our efforts were in vain on that one as we were swiftly told by the RWAS that they hadn’t enough space to do that!!!!

I wish organisers at all levels had the ability to view their event from a punters view, imagine yourself pushing a baby buggy or a wheel chair about, struggling on crutches, wouldn’t you want a rest at some stage? If you are charging producers for stand space to sell food & drink, can’t you see an obvious link there that needs utilising? I agree that some people are contented to sit on the grass in the sunny weather but that can’t work in the wind, rain and cold can it?

Alun Davies Minister for Natural Resources & Food

I heard two brief speeches from the man at the top of food and I’d like to share a few bits what I should like to share with you is he says he’s an optimist. He’s not issuing dictats; he wants conversation and debate with those involved in Welsh food. Well he’s saying the right things but I challenge you to take him up on it. Email him with your views let him know what you think. What you are happy with and what you want changing and improving, after all this is your industry and your livelihoods at stake. If for any reason you are not happy emailing him direct, then I’m happy to do that for any of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers. All I ask is that you just do something. Because in all fairness to Mr Minister, how can he possibly know if you are happy or unhappy with Welsh food if you cannot be bothered to accept his invitation to converse with him? This is your chance, your opportunity to air your views and I don’t feel you have an excuse not to.

Please don’t think for an instant that I’m now doing PR for Mr Minister and wag food, I’m not. My wish is to try and help our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, that’s all. When you guys are happy, maybe I’ll be happy too……………………………….who knows?