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Archive for August, 2014

Llys Meddyg Restaurant With Rooms

26 Aug

Now dear reader I’ve some good news to share with you and some sad news, but best to start with the good news. Ian and I caught up with some friends in Newport, Pembrokeshire and after coffee and a walk decided we call in at Llys Meddyg for lunch. The weather was warm and sunny so we headed for their Kitchen Garden, which was a delightful setting for us to catch up on the gossip and enjoy some delicious food. But it was not only the food that we enjoyed the coffee excelled too. Coffee suppliers were old friends of Welsh Country magazine – Coaltown (Roasted Joe’s) Coffee Company from Carmarthenshire. Good service impresses me and I certainly couldn’t fault that either in the Kitchen Garden, even though they were quite busy. All the staff were friendly, helpful and efficient and that is all you can ask for.

We had a brilliant time, playing catch-up and were quite cross with ourselves for not having visited the Kitchen Garden before. Now to my sad news, which is that the Kitchen Garden at Llys Meddyg closes for the season on Friday – we couldn’t believe it – bad timing on our part! Of course Llys Meddyg remains open, and the Kitchen Garden is available for private dining, corporate events, parties, celebrations and weddings as is Llys Meddyg itself. It is a delightful setting for family celebrations, so please do visit if you are in the area. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

 

 
 

When’s A Journalist Not A Journalist?

07 Aug

Well the answer to my rather tongue-in-cheek question, is, according to wag food when a journalist writes a blog. Wag are totally ignoring the fact that I have been editing and publishing Welsh Country magazine (WCM) for nearly ten years. But why are wag food trying to brush WCM aside?

Welsh Country is the only national magazine in Wales. WCM is the only title to dedicate pages and pages to Welsh food and drink every issue and support its Best Of Welsh & Border producers (BOW) to the hilt. We started in our early days with a Buy Local – Stay Local campaign. We’ve worked tirelessly way before others tried to get on the local food band wagon, but local food is our passion and we’ve stuck with it with great results.

So back to journalism. Wag recently told me: Given your extensive ongoing correspondence with us, principally via our Press Office, and your active involvement as a stakeholder in the recent consultation on our new Food and Drink Action Plan, we have reviewed our communications with you to ensure we are offering the most appropriate level of service. Which has been followed by wag stating: it’s now wag’s intention to treat me as part of the blogging community rather than as a journalist (in the commonly understood sense of the term). 

So in one wag breath, I’m a stakeholder because of my active involvement in the Food Action Plan, but then not invited to the launch. It seems in wag’s world, I’m an active stakeholder when it suits wag but now just a blogger because that too is what wag have decided.

Under the new food regime I was told I could no longer ask questions of the wag food department, I’d to use the press office. Now I’ve been told by wag I cannot ask questions of the press office because I’m taking up too much of their time! To prove their point I’ve now had three Freedom Of Information questions returned unanswered because my requests have been deemed ‘vexatious’

Under Section 14(1) of the Freedom Of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and they are refused on that basis. Section 14(1) states: Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious. “Section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any requests which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress”

Although wag inform me that ‘vexatious’ is not defined within the FOIA, they then kindly drew my attention to the Information Commissioner vs. Devon County Council & Dransfield [20120 UKUT 440 (AAC), (28 January 2013).

Then I’m told: Over the course of the FOI requests received from you dating back to April 2011, it has become increasingly clear that you are seeking information in order to cause disruption to Welsh Government, or perhaps in an attempt to force a change in our advertising policy. It is clear from our records that your campaign of FOI requests followed the Welsh Government’s decision in 2010 not to advertise in your magazine.

It’s total nonsense to charge me with trying to change wag’s advertising policy. Wag know without a doubt that they  can and they will advertise in whatever media they wish. Me change their mind? That’s nearly funny. I’m just stating on welshfoodbites how things are in the food industry as I see it and also from feedback from our BOW producers. Welshfoodbites wasn’t there when we were working with wag food, because apart from advertising with us we were allowed to talk with ‘them’. In fact I organised a meeting with the then Rural Minister Elin Jones and the then Head Of Food. The meeting was for our BOW producers and undertaken at our cost and arranged by WCM.  At that stage I also had regular meetings with Elin Jones to update and bring to her attention issues that had been raised with WCM. If wag food can understand that, they will then comprehend that there was no need for any FOIs then, because WCM could talk to the food department and the Minister – it’s called communication and I lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested wag food should try communicating.  We were supporting wag food because they were supporting WCM – it was that simple.

The editorial policy of Welsh Country magazine (WCM) is that WCM promises to support our advertisers, apart from their advertisement. Wag when they were working with us, they knew this, but that is now forgotten. Our additional support includes editorial in the magazine, space permitting, news and press releases put up on welshcountry.co.uk, no limit there of course, plus nowadays social media too. That is backed up with our assurance that if we can help with any queries that producers do not wish to put to wag food themselves in case of repercussions, then I’ll do my best to help. If that means FOIs, then they will be sent through and published on welshfoodbites. FOI questions were asked because I and others required answers, it’s sad that wag cannot take that on board.

The Welsh Government says it’s transparent, but that’s not my experience, instead it seems like more government lip-service. To be accused of wasting wag’s time is somewhat funny as they then took the time and trouble to send me a full, detailed list of all the FOIs I have asked. Now why would such a busy government go to that trouble? Would wag not have the sense to understand that I have kept every single item of correspondence, including FOIs that I have sent through? I’m sure it makes sense to civil servants but it certainly doesn’t to me. I’ve also been challenged by wag saying that:

When you receive answers to your questions you have frequently issued supplementary questions immediately.

I hope that only a few of you might think it inconsiderate of me in having the audacity to go back to the FOI to ask further questions. But sure many will realise that my job as a journalist is to ask questions and to continue to do so until they are answered in full. How brief would Jeremy Paxman’s TV programme have been if he’d only been allowed to ask a politician just one or two questions!!!

I am then told that the: FOI Act is being used by you as a means to overcome the perceived problem of Welsh Government Press Office not corresponding with you in the manner that you deem appropriate, even though you have stated that none of our responses will end up in your magazine.  There seems to be some expectation on your part that Welsh Government’s communication with you should be over and above that when we engage with regular media outlets.

Wrong again wag. It was you that told me I could only ask questions through the press office. Whenever the press office then chose to answer my questions was down to them – I was working to their timescale. I have stated FOIs will no appear in WCM, that’s correct. Though as far as I’m aware no FOI questioner has to state what will happen to the response they get. I’m sure that not many of our WCM readers would have been impressed if I’d published some of the FOI answers. A magazine should be interesting reading, it’s not a newspaper. The purpose of our 10 food pages is to encourage our readers to support Welsh food and drink, not to highlight what I perceive as issues in the food department. Do wag food really want that published? I have never asked or expected wag communication over and above other media outlets. Actually I’m quite pleased to get questions answered. Readers might not be aware that the FOI Act requires that FOI questions must be answered within 20 working days so at least I know when I send one through the timescale that it will take.

I haven’t a personal grudge with wag food. This isn’t about personalities this is about helping our producers and promoting Welsh food and drink. I am though in constant contact with our Best Of Welsh & Border producers and some have grave concerns about the food department, they want to make sure that there isn’t a total disregard for the value of taxpayers’ money, whether that comes from Wales or Europe. Micro producers want to have a voice, in that department and in wag itself. Perhaps I should apologise for helping our producers. Perhaps I should apologise for caring passionately about Welsh food and drink, but perhaps not…………

Your requests therefore seek information for which there appears to be little or no public interest; demonstrate unreasonable persistence and intransigence;

I cannot understand this at all. Wag seeming to prefer having lots of the ‘same’ FOIs go through – that apparently that would show public interest. Well guys that could easily be arranged – but once again you are missing the point – people involved in our food industry want it to succeed, of course they do, they want wag food to work with them, they want wag food to actually understand the problems that they are facing on a daily basis. They want to be able to trust the food department. If they did trust wag food, would they come to me with their food issues? No they wouldn’t, they go straight to the decision makers. Why would the public send any FOIs through about Welsh food and drink? Are they really that interested enough to go to the hassle of doing an FOI? Surely not.     

I was told on 3rd June: Accordingly, if you require information from us in the future, or you wish to contribute comments as to how we might improve our services, please could I ask you to write directly to our public mailbox at:

FreedomOfInformationOfficer@wales.gsi.gov.uk

Sending all queries to this mailbox will help ensure that they can be dealt with promptly and be routed swiftly to the most appropriate part of Welsh Government.  In the event that you write to officials directly, we will ask that they simply forward your emails to that central address, thereby allowing us to address the points you raise in correspondence both efficiently and effectively.

Well obeying further wag orders, I did just that, the very same day and guess what? I’m still waiting for my response!! So that’s wag’s version of dealing promptly, efficiently and effectively. Could you run a business like that? No of course not, but aren’t they lucky they don’t have too?

Sure this part will raise a smile with some of you: our Department certainly does want to hear from producers, consumers and others connected with the food sector. We encourage feedback and welcome constructive opinion so that we can improve our services to benefit Welsh businesses and consumers alike.

More wag lip-service? Welcome constructive opinion? Again that’s not my experience, but then I’m an editor, publisher and blogger so my constructive opinion is seemingly not required and certainly not respected. Maybe yours will be!

Of course the letter from wag was very long and I’ve only copied out parts in case you got too bored. But before this letter was received, Ian noticed that on one Monday, viewing figures were exceptionally high, and I mean exceptionally high on welshfoodbites. It makes sense now as wag were obviously all over welshfoodbites like a rash, copying out so many sections to send back to me. I can only assume that made them feel better and didn’t waste too much of their time.

Obviously some of you will have little interest in this post, but for those who been quizzing me about FOIs and wag food, wanting to know what is going on with them, now you know, they are not talking to me. I’m not even receiving wag food press releases. If I want to see those I’ve to view them on their website! But it’s easier to say through welshfoodbites  that this is the situation we are now in. Having said that, please do email any queries through and I’ll talk to people about them that will listen to me……..

 
 

Pembrokeshire Produce Direct Stops Trading

01 Aug

All our Best Of Welsh & Border producers have been made aware of this situation, as we feel it is important that they are kept in the food loop.

Follows is the Trading statement sent out on 29th July by Pembrokeshire Product Direct, PPD.

Trading Statement

As a result of a meeting called on 21/07/2014 the Board of Directors of Pembrokeshire Produce Direct (As elected by the Members) regret to inform you that Pembrokeshire Produce Direct can no longer continue to trade.
In light of the current trading circumstances a decision was made that PPD must cease trading as of 1st August 2014
All Orders made this week will be delivered as per normal on Thursday 31st July (North Route) and Friday 1st August (South Route)
The Website will still remain live for the month of August where all our Suppliers contact details will be available for you. From the 1st August it will not be possible to order produce via the PPD Website.
PPD has had an amazing 5 years and that’s been down to you, our customers. The Board of Director, Our Suppliers and Members of Staff wish to thank you all for your orders, goodwill and support.

This is very disappointing news as this project received £500k from the Welsh Government through the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme. As I understand it, but that’s to be confirmed officially, PPD  went for further funding, but unlike FBA and their Fork2fork project, who got a 12 month extension and a further £100k in addition to their initial £800k, PPD didn’t not get further funding although both projects focused on Welsh food and Drink. Of course I’d be interested to know the reasons SCES turned PPD’s extension down, but approved fork2fork’s extension. But as taxpayers who have in many ways funded these projects, will we ever get answers from SCES? Probably not.

 

Obviously some Pembrokeshire producers are most unhappy with this situation and I guess this saga will run on for some time.