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Archive for September, 2014

When Is A Stakeholder Not A Stakeholder?

30 Sep

When her name is Kath is the easy answer, but what I’m actually getting at is a stakeholder in the recent consultation on wag’s Food & Drink Action Plan. Wag inform me that with my: 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. It is nevertheless important that we can continue to provide you with an integrated service in responding to your communications.  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.

Now what does that mean? Well according to wag, they say they’re offering me the most appropriate level of service in regards to questions I require answers to. That’s wag’s theory anyway, the practice is something totally different. Wag has ‘told’ me that I’ve to use a public mailbox. I’m now public as wag has now decided that I’m no longer a journalist in their world anyway. I’m told this method will help ensure that my queries can be dealt with promptly and be routed swiftly to the most appropriate part of Welsh Government.

So having been ‘told’ what to do, i.e. no discussion, because that would mean having a conversation with me, I responded to their letter the following day, which was the 4th June. Assuming now that you’re all sitting down, because I don’t wish to shock you too much, because as at 30th September, some four months later,  I still await a reply. It might be sensible if I double-check my dictionary as to what promptly and routed swiftly mean, or perhaps there is a special civil directory that might help me understand much more clearly what I’m supposed to do now to get food questions answered. Or should I have got the message now that wag food don’t wish to answer my questions. Hopefully that clarifies the situation a little as to why I’m still struggling to make any progress at all with wag food.

Sorry for digressing, but important I clear that up –  so now back to my main topic. My active involvement as a stakeholder, and one of wag food’s most frequent and regular correspondents on food and related matters,  apparently means nothing as today I’ve received and email from one of our most supportive Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW,  concerning the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board Membership. Please don’t ask me why I haven’t received it directly, but it’s clear my being labelled by wag food as an active stakeholder is just wag words – meaningless words.

I’m told that wag food: 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. This has indeed been a key focus of our recent extensive consultation on the proposed Strategic Food and Drink Action Plan. As one of our most frequent and regular correspondents on food and related matters I hope you will appreciate this.

Well that’s certainly not my experience. Wag food wants to hear feedback, but as to welcoming constructive opinion, I find that a joke. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say wag food don’t want, or welcome my constructive feedback. That’s more like the truth, otherwise why am I constantly blocked and fobbed off by them?

Today, we’ll help wag food out again and send the job vacancy details around to all our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, just in case as stakeholders, they too have been ignored. I’m not sure how many, if any, might be tempted to apply. I wonder how many have enough, or any free time for these unremunerated posts.  Members will be expected to be available to work a minimum of one day per 2  months as the Board will meet at least 6 times a year initially and you’ll be expected to be available to meet on bi-monthly basis or as necessary to suit the needs of the Board (with the likelihood of some related additional work of up to two days a year – this could include an end of year Conference for example or task and finish group activity). So those with plenty of spare time, or working for a Quango, do apply and let me know how you get on.

Obviously I’ve no clue as to who will be sitting on the interview panel, if brown noses are essential, if it’s jobs-for-the-boys, but I’m sure we’ll be able to work that out when we find out who is selected.

I still hope that eventually our Welsh food and drink producers get a better deal from wag food than they are getting so far.

Finally my thanks to the BOW producer who took the time to email al this information and keep me in the loop on this, I do appreciate it and also to another BOW producer ringing in this afternoon, checking that wag food had sent us this news! Thank goodness for our BOW food grapevine.       

 

 

 
 

Surveys – Who Believes The Figures?

29 Sep

Journalists are allowed to be cynical, that’s how we are trained and surveys always bring cynicism to the fore. Over recent years we had companies reviewing Welsh food festivals, the reason for this is to tick boxes for Europe so further funding can be gained. I struggle to believe the numbers that are put out and how much supposedly food producers are taking at each festival. If the figures were accurate or very near the truth, I wouldn’t have as many food producers telling me that they are still worried about the future of their businesses and that their expansion plans were being put on the back burner. Recently one AM was on social media saying food festivals in north Wales brought in £16m to the economy. Of course £16m million into north Wales, can only be good news, but what I’m curious about is how is that figure is arrived at? How accurate is it?

Last year we had Wavehill doing a food festival review and I was told it was being completed by telephone and from food festival organiser’s paperwork. Wag food asked me to do a telephone interview with Wavehill:  As you have considerable experience in this area but I declined, for two main reasons. Firstly there was no payment and secondly that I had no idea how my input would be used or no control over it. I’m afraid that didn’t go down too well with wag food but then I was inadvertently copied in an email that went around wag food hierarchy saying:  if KR refuses to be interviewed without a consultation fee, and subsequently slates the final review, these can be referred to. 

My subsequent complaint did eventually get an apology saying that the civil servants’ email: do not reflect the views of Welsh government and the Food division and we are sorry if they have caused any offence. Offended, I certainly was, it is my choice but don’t reflect the views of wag and wag food? That can’t be true. I’ve not met, or spoken to this civil servant, so where do these views come from if not from wag food? I’m not obliged to do more work for wag food without a fee, I’m sure this civil servant doesn’t work for wag food for free, so why should I? I have little knowledge of Wavehill and would have had no control at all of their report, so how could I feel comfortable doing that?

I’ve recently noticed a festival using their part of the Wavehill report and quoting percentages, saying that over half their visitors weren’t local, plus the percentage that came from outside Wales and a spend figure from non-local visitors. But how can these figure be arrived at and be accurate? If the survey talked to every person attending, which is impossible, people still don’t tell the truth, it’s human nature isn’t it? But the reality is that this seems to be a sample of people that are ‘talked’ to and figures are then extrapolated.

I’m no longer reviewing festivals on welshfoodbites, as I’ve no wish to assist whichever company is doing wag foods’ evaluation. I’m also not naming, and certainly not knocking this festival, because they continue to do a good job year after year. How do I know they are doing a good job? Well that’s an easy question to answer, because I’ve been attending this festival for the last nine years. At each festival I attend, I actually talk to our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW, that attend and because they trust me, they tell me their views, what works well and what needs improving, if anything. Our BOW producers tell it to me as it is; they know it will not go any further unless they need my help with anything. But there’s nothing better than attending a festival where we have plenty of BOW producers in attendance and they are happy!!!

Some time ago I had a press release from a food festival saying they had 10,000 people through, which sounds good unless you are aware this festival is free to attend so there’s no way to do a visitor count and also impossible in my view that the town concerned could park 3,000 cars, let alone 5,000 cars. So apologies for my cynicism remaining intact.

I’d be really interested in your views on surveys and reports. Of course we must always bear in mind that box-ticking exercises are obligatory for wag to get further funding from Europe, wag cannot avoid that, but our Welsh food and drink producers and festival organisers need help and support that goes beyond box-ticking!

 
 

Thanks To Sender Of Another ‘Brown’ Envelope

24 Sep

A further envelope arrived today, simply marked for my attention as Editor. To be strictly true on this occasion, it wasn’t a brown envelope, but a white one, but the envelope colour is really not the point. I’d just like to thank whoever sent in more information that he or she thinks I might be missing out on. I can totally understand the sender wishing to remain anonymous; I doubt very much that the sender is on of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers, BOW  because after ten years our producers are well aware that as a journalist, and yes wag that is what I still am, a journalist, I will not reveal my sources. It does not matter to me one jot who is questioning me. I’ve had Ministers and civil servants that have insisted that I have to give a company name to a complaint otherwise they will not deal with it. But I refuse to do that unless the company wishes me to do so and if that’s the case the company can do their complaints themselves. So no-one will action my queries or complaints, but that does save them some work doesn’t it? I would put forward complaints to wag food because until our industry can trust the food department, no company names will go forward from me.

But as to who is helping me out there, all I can say is thank-you. I just wish more ‘useful’ information came through to me, but guess I’m best being grateful and not greedy!

I hope now I’ve whetted your appetite and now you wish to know what was in the envelope. Here’s a summary for you: It was taken from Sell 2 Wales on 18.9.14.

Supplier framework for the Fork2Fork project

Short description of the contract or purchase.

FBA is seeking to establish a framework of several individuals to provide a range of consultancy support around a Welsh Government /EU funded project being delivered by the organisation. The project in question, Fork2Fork, aims to raise awareness, provide information and encourage people to buy direct from local producers. There are numerous opportunities to buy direct, be it from farmers’ markets, farm shops, box schemes, online, food festivals and of course from the farm itself. 

Ian had already picked this up from Sell 2 Wales, but the reason I hadn’t posted is we were trying to uncover more detail. Fork2Fork states that FBA will be directing the Fork2Fork campaign until June 2015.

I have spoken on many, many occasions with the Scheme Manager of the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme, SCES. This scheme goes through the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013 and is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in Rural Areas.

These are extracts taken from emails between myself and the Scheme Manger in January of last year.

The project sponsor, Francis Balsom Associates Ltd, recently 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.  We then assess and appraise such proposals and may give approval for the amendment if it is 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. FBA are delivering a project that was designed by them and which is delivering against aims and objectives set by them.  This is not a contract. 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 by me as Scheme Manager on 10 October 2012. 

In respect of the project information it was originally approved with a start date of 2 July 2009 and a completion date of 30 June 2011 with total grant award of £799,736 and at the last extension the completion date was 31 March 2014 with a total grant award of £898,497. This comprised of (approximately) £55,000 for the second national conference that was delivered in 2012 and a further £43,761 for additional activity for the website, some further information circulation and an extension to the independent evaluation as the project will now run over a longer period.

In July this year I sent through an FOI 8646, asking if Fork2Fork scheme had been extended, to what date, how much money had been awarded and what for. Also what other role is Fork2Fork undertaking for wag and at what cost and why Fork2Fork were considered a Food Hall Partner Organisation at the RWAS. Well no surprise for me to tell you that wag refused to answer any of my questions stating the Substantial Harm Test – harm would likely to occur if this information was released at this point in time. Funding information will be published in autumn. 

So the onus is on us ‘in autumn’ to keep searching for this information until we find it. No doubt it will buried on the wag website – but how helpful is that? When is wag’s autumn? Where will we find it? Is this what wag food mean when they say they are working with our industry? Pity wag can’t make life easy for us.

Oh for an open and transparent Welsh government.

I will not be the only person who will be confused with this latest happening with Fork2Fork. I’m constantly talking to food producers, as are the team here and I’ve yet to find a food producer who understands what Fork2Fork have attempted to do over the last few years, whilst being funded nearly £900k. But not to worry folks, Europe’s boxes were ticked to perfection and that seems to be the most important matter.

Just before the RWAS, Fork2Fork announced that their campaign had entered a new phase and extension until the summer of 2015. I think I can take it as read that further funding has been given to take them through to June 2015; I think that’s fair to assume. Despite my many questions, I am still not clear what, if any monitoring is in place for these SCES schemes. If there is monitoring, is it by someone with the experience to do it, or is it just done by a wag box-ticker?

I guess this latest news will upset those at Pembrokeshire Produce Direct who have had to fold their project.

It’s frustrating that so much money is thrown at these projects when so many food producers are crying out for practical help and some financial support.

 

 

 
 

Carwyn Reshuffles His Cabinet

16 Sep

Carwyn Jones recently announced his latest cabinet reshuffle. Not sure if you’ve heard about it or if it might interest you. But the only reason that I’m posting this is that I’ve actually been taken to task by email and by phone for not giving the news of the new Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant AM and the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food Rebecca Evans AM. Edwina Hart AM remains as Minister for Economy, Science and Transport.

Whether these AMs will actually ‘listen’ to those involved in Welsh food and drink at all levels, of course remains to be seen, my suggestion is as always though, don’t hold your breath.

I’m rather puzzled why I should be ticked off for not posting this news, but I have my reasons for not doing so. The first is lack of time and that fact that I’m not paid to be a spokesperson or post for the Welsh Government – bearing in mind wag haven’t bothered to send me a press release about this. But as wag have now decreed I’m no longer considered by them to be a journalist I don’t expect anything from them. I’m now told if I wish to know anything I should go onto their website. As if! Secondly this is my food blog. It’s not classed as an official part of Welsh Country magazine, although I’m happy to have a regular banner advert in each issue!!! But when Ian is selling to potential Best of Welsh & Borders, (BOW) producers, he doesn’t sell welshfoodbites as not part of the package. Of course it’s mentioned – often by the potential BOW producer – as welshfoodbites still remains a huge talking point. Thirdly and something that I have to consider constantly, is that welshfoodbites is not, and has never has been funded, unlike many other Welsh food websites, and no doubt still are. That’s despite the fact that our website stats are excellent, but government paymasters/funders seemingly don’t take this into consideration, for some reason not classing web stats as relevant which is what I was told when fork2fork got further funding and an extension.  Welshfoodbites is proof, if proof were still needed, that there is a need in the Welsh food world for a website that informs and keeps producers in the food loop. Something wag food continue to fail to do. I also believe having the opportunity to be able to leave opinions on welshfoodbites, knowing that any personal details will be kept confidential, is important . After the constant battering I’ve been getting and I can understand that very few producers are happy to raise their heads above the parapet, so confidentiality is something I was determined I could promise to my welshfoodbites following.

There was one amusing fact though with those that have taken me to task, although they are all regular visitors, none of them ever leave a comment……………………………………………..

 

 
 

Nato Summit, Newport, Wales

05 Sep

I have just received a bulletin /new release from Clarence House saying: The Prince of Wales hosted a cultural evening showcasing Welsh food, music and people for world leaders on the first day of the NATO UK summit this evening. On the menu at the drinks and canapés event were classic dishes such as Welsh rarebit, cured Welsh salmon and goat’s cheese tartlet, and on hand to wash them down were local beers and wines from France and Chile.

Someone needs to give me strength this week before I scream.

Firstly I’ve not been told by wag food, not that that news will surprise any regular welshfoodbites readers, which Welsh producers had been selected to supply the Nato summit. Ian’s asked questions, but been told this event is being run by Nato. However good of Clarence House to give me some food news.

Now of course I’m delighted guests were served Welsh rarebit, but who’s cheese was used? Welsh salmon, but who supplied the salmon? Goat’s cheese tartlet which goat’s cheese producer was this? Now the reason I want these questions answered is that if the producers are with us on Best Of Welsh & Borders listing, then we can use social media to give them additional promotion, an extra service we offer, but is it worth it when it takes so much effort to get nowhere? Actually shouldn’t it be wag food’s responsibility to be doing just that?

But the crunch of course is wines from France and Chile. Don’t we produce wine in Wales? Silly me, I thought we had some superb wines here in Wales. Haven’t we got Drinks Wales that could easily have sorted this for Nato? Just how can Wales lose an opportunity to promote their own local food. Haven’t we known for years that this Summit was coming to Wales?

On behalf of Welsh food and drink producers, all I can say wag food is I feel you’ve let Wales down.

 

 
 

This Is A First Folks………………..

04 Sep

Refused press tickets to a Welsh food festival!

I applied yesterday for press tickets for Abergavenny Food Festival an event that we’ve attended and covered in Welsh Country magazine and on welshfoodbites for at least the last nine years. This morning I received a reply from an Abergavenny spokesperson, which I’ll share with you:

This year we have undertaken a review of all the complimentary tickets we give out to various people and organisations. We have done this as part of our continued efforts to become financially self-sustainable. For this reason we are not able to offer you complimentary press passes this year. 

So this really is a first, the first occasion I’ve been refused press tickets to any Welsh food festival since Welsh Country started in 2005. However should Abergavenny ever become financially self-sustainable, which wag food have been telling me for the last nine years, that’s what food festivals have to do, then I shall be the first to applaud them. Whether refusing press accreditation and press passes is a sensible move to achieve Abergavenny’s self-sustainability, I shall leave to you to decide………..

After last year’s event, off my own bat, I submitted to wag food a full list of Abergavenny exhibitors, which highlighted the fact that Abergavenny didn’t fulfil wag food’s criteria of 75% Welsh producers. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get a response from wag food, but I was later told by an organiser that wag food had asked all organisers to send into them a list of exhibitors and where they came from, that attended their festival. Later I followed this up with an FOI Number 8331, which was posted welshfoodbites on 28th April. It revealed that Abergavenny Food Festival had to repay to wag food £2k from their £10k grant for failing to meet wag’s criteria they also have to refund for their Christmas festival too. So did my action have anything to do with my being refused press tickets this year? If that’s the case it seems rather petty, but if wag were doing their job properly they’d have known this festival along with a few others was ignoring their 75% Welsh stand criteria. I’m not ‘various people’, I’m not ‘an organisation’, just an editor/journalist whose publication Welsh Country is very strong on Welsh food. A lack of Welsh producers has been a problem at Abergavenny for many years.  Surely there is an obligation if you are accepting wag funding, regardless of their criteria, that Welsh stands should have priority. As wag food don’t speak to me it’s surely perfectly obvious that I have nothing to do with the criteria they come up with, but if wag are paying, it’s down to the organisers to follow all wag criteria, not just the ones they are happy to follow. If more people like me believed food festivals were firstly for our food producers, our food producers would not have as many complaints about them, year after year. Of course we have some brilliant festivals, that are always improving. Perhaps I’m greedy wanting more top class festivals, but so do our producers and so should wag food and that shouldn’t be wrong should it?

If a food festival doesn’t receive funding from wag food, then it is totally up to that food festival how they run their festival. The percentage of Welsh food producers would be totally irrelevant as it’s down to the organiser to decide how they want their festival to run. But if a food festival receives wag funding then I will stand up for Welsh producers who have  no say as to whether they can get into a festival or not. Can you imagine the French or Irish governments funding food festivals and allowing this scenario to happen?  I’m not a nationalist in the political sense, but I’m aware of the situation across Europe,  the ending of milk quotas and the effect this is already having on Welsh producers, is hideous and could get even deeper.  I make no apologies for standing up for our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. If the wag food department and all Welsh food festivals did just that, then these pathetic situations would not keep recurring.  If wag food and now festival organisers want to shoot me as the messenger, then carry on doing so. I’d actually prefer grown-up behaviour and get food festivals to improve, just stop rejecting bona-fide Welsh producers at Welsh food festivals. It makes blood boil when this happens time and time again and those poor producers have no recourse whatsoever. Their explanation ‘we’re oversubscribed is a great fob off and woe betide any producer that follows through and asks why is it me left out?  But shooting the messenger is now getting rather boring and it’s achieving nothing to improve Welsh food and drink or the lot of our food producers – they and they alone should be our priority.

I’ve no idea which of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, (BOW) have been accepted this year at Abergavenny. But I’ve already had a complaint about one BOW who was not allowed in Abergavenny this year. But to save time and work I’ll send this email from Abergavenny around our BOW and then they’ll understand why we’ll not be there seeing how they are getting on.

What a very sad and pathetic situation this is.

 
 

Dairy Farmers Take Yet Another Hit – On Their Bottom Line

03 Sep

Many thanks to a supportive Best Of Welsh & Border producer who has kindly sent this latest news through to me.

3ppl milk price cut for all First Milk members – from 1st October   (1st September 2014)

It was black Monday for First Milk members most of whom were no doubt shell shocked to learn of this  latest 3ppl across the board  price cut.  First Milk have not dressed up the background to the latest cut simply to state it gives them a milk buying price in line with current market returns.

In terms of its milk buying competitors the gap between First milk and others is certainly widening but they have to do what they have to do in an attempt to balance the books.  One thing is certain some of their members have no alternative but to either buckle up and accept the cut or exit the industry because changing milk buyers is not an option.

So in the space of 5 months First Milk’s liquid contracted producers have seen 7.4ppl knocked of their milk price equivalent to an eye watering 30% drop to give a 1st October standard litre price of only 25.1ppl.

For its cheese contracted producers it’s been a case of five consecutive cuts totalling 6.4ppl to produce a new 1st October standard litre price of 26.1ppl.

It’s for First Milk members to ask questions and comment but no doubt their initial reaction will be the same as the thud of his jaw hitting the floor could be heard.

This is starting to look like an industry plunging into crisis at speed and whilst only one month ago in this column it stated that some producers would be on 25p before Xmas he never imagined it would be by 1st October.

There are now suggestions that some could receive a milk price below 22p by January and even 20ppl has been mentioned.  It’s grim and as one recognised EU guru commented to us today “It’s going to be a blood bath with casualties.”

I cannot believe dairy farmers are constantly being hit like this. Anyone would think that Wales didn’t actually want Welsh milk and can’t be bothered to support and back its farmers. This leaves me speechless.  Dairy farmers do make contact with your AMs and get them working much harder for you.

 
 

The Shed At Porthgain

01 Sep

Ian and I called in at The Shed at Porthgain with some friends on Saturday and so pleased we did. Paul, their brilliant front of house man’ was delighted to tell us that The Shed had been voted fourth in The Times 30 Best Fish & Chips – Where To Eat In And Take Away.

What a brilliant achievement. I’m so pleased for owner Caroline and her team. I’ve posted about The Shed in the past on a couple of occasions and if you haven’t got to visit them yet, please do, you really are missing out. There was only one other Welsh establishment in this listing and competition was keen.

So well done The Shed, we’ll be back again soon!!!!

 

 
 

Wag Rules…………………….?

01 Sep

The organisers told me officially of a Food Festival Seminar being held at Llangollen Pavilion on the 6th of February, this year. I was actually invited, but in my role as a journalist, with deadlines, to meet I couldn’t attend. Following the seminar  wasn’t told officially of the outcome, but certainly heard about it on our Welsh food grapevine. The news was that a formal body should be created of food festivals in Wales to represent the interests of food festivals in Wales and encourage collaboration between food events in Wales.

I wasn’t told of a working group that met on 19th March at the wag offices at Aberystwyth to discuss the concept of creating a grouping of every food festival in Wales to represent the interests of food festivals in Wales. However I’ve recently had some information sent through from a supporter of welshfoodbites. This has been sent in full by email to our Best Of Welsh & Border producers, so they are at least kept in the picture on what is going on in their industry.

Wag’s mission statement also says:  The working group would like the opinion of every food festival in Wales and stakeholders in the industry on the points of the proposal

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

Well that’s very interesting, no I’m wrong there, it’s very annoying. According to wag food, who’ve recently decided I’m no longer a journalist, apparently wag know better than me that my role has changed within Welsh Country magazine, but it sounds as if wag food have now decreed that I’m no longer a stakeholder in the industry. So when is a stakeholder not a stakeholder? Have wag just changed their mind, but it’s too much hassle to tell me? It seems wag rules, or rather wag make up their own rules as they go along, but haven’t got the courtesy to tell me I’m now no longer considered a stakeholder by them. Wag food state they want feedback on their proposals on this proposed food festival group, but looks like only from the people they wish to have opinions from! I’m so sorry not to have been able to pass on my words of wisdom to wag food, that’s a shame. Wag and wag food will just have to keep reading welshfoodbites ………………..

The Welsh Government’s Food Division have agreed to provide a grant of £30,000 to set up the new association (subject to the specific items of expenditure being clearly identified).

For any of you that are not with us as Best Of Welsh & Border producers, but want more news about the food festival organisers group I suggest you talk directly to wag food. Good luck on that one!