Archive for February, 2015

Further Update On Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme

18 Feb

As you are aware projects running under the SCES, such as Pembrokeshire Produce Direct and Fork2fork have appeared on numerous occasions on this blog. Both these projects where funded through the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme. I understood that there was to be some evaluation of this so asked some questions and the wag replied.

Response to my Freedom Of Information question No 9170.

  1. Which is the independent company that has this contract and how were they awarded this work? Was it put out to tender?
  2. You have given me rough dates for publishing the final report and supporting documents as end of 2015, but are you then able to send this final document through to me? Or if that’s not possible, when and where do I know how to search for this information?

In relation to question 1

CM International was awarded the contract for the independent evaluation of the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme on 26 November 2014. The contract was awarded via an open tender public procurement exercise on etenderwales.   

In relation to question 2

The independent evaluation of the SCE scheme is scheduled to complete by the end of September 2015. We expect therefore to publish the final report and supporting documents on the Welsh Government website by the end of 2015.

So we are only slightly further forward. But after further wag website digging I found the cost of the tender awarded was £56,375 – with £70k actually set aside for this evaluation. Which is wonderful wag work if you can get it. The SCES scheme, which the government says is an important element of the Rural Development Plan for Wales, (RDP) has been running from 2007 – 2013, with quite a few dubious projects, in my view. We’re now told wag will not have this evaluation until the end of September 2015. Wag will then take nearly three months before this will be posted on their website. So my next question is, will this be easy for us to find? I doubt that very much. But as Welsh food and drink is so important to this country why does this evaluation process have to take so long? When is there time for lessons to be learnt on wasting money?   As a cynical journalist it concerns me that it will be the end of December before we get a chance of reading these words of evaluation wisdom. So I worried that the end of 2015, when many people are on Christmas/New Year holidays, is a great time for wag to bury more bad news…………………

Something else worth highlighting for those of you going forward for tenders is that:

The Welsh Assembly Government, on behalf of the Welsh Ministers, will be conducting this procurement exercise through the etenderwales portal Tender documents and other information must be downloaded from and returned through this portal.

So just in case wag have not informed you of the introduction of etenderwales, please don’t just check out selltowales, get yourselves registered on ‘etenderwales’. I’d be delighted to hear that wag had kept you updated, but maybe they’ve not!

We’re also told that:

A series of recommendations based upon the research findings will be made to inform the development of any similar scheme that may wish to be implemented by the Client in the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

Well it’s good to know those timings isn’t it? Bearing in mind the Rural Development Programme  now runs from 2014 -2020 but is unlikely to kick off until late 2015. Now could that be that our Welsh Labour Government might just be thinking that this timing will give them a head start for the May 2016 elections? I guess they could look at it that way and they have the power to do whatever they like, it might also fool any Welsh voters who have short memories, or don’t mind the government sitting on a stack of money and just biding their time to help their elections chances. Let’s hope I’m proved wrong ………………………………………


Flavours of Herefordshire Festival – Cancelled for 2015

18 Feb

I just had news of the cancellation of the Herefordshire Festival and as some of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers do attend this one, here’s part of their press release:

Locally grown food and products are at the heart of Herefordshire and its rural economy. With over 6 other food festivals now organised in the County, the lack of sponsorship money and spiraling costs, Visit Herefordshire Board of Directors have taken the difficult decision to cancel the 2015 Festival as they seek to evaluate the activities undertaken by Visit Herefordshire, the county’s official tourism organisation.

One of the most anticipated events in the County’s calendar the Flavours of Herefordshire Festival, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, has grown extensively over the 9 years since it’s inception in 2006, supported at that time with European funding.  Chairman Alan Curless said “Now with the purse string so much tighter the Board felt it was important not to dilute the other valuable work carried out by Visit Herefordshire”.  The Festival has grown from attracting 4,000 visitors over 2 days 9 years ago to over 38,000 visitors in 2014.

Chairman Alan Curless said “To organise and promote an event of this magnitude requires a serious amount of resource – both financial and physical.  In light of the current economic climate and the re evaluation of work undertaken by Visit Herefordshire, the Board has decided to cancel this year’s event, however as part of this evaluation process, Visit Herefordshire will assess the future viability of the Festival”.

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that once you have established a food festival, and this one was impressive. That it is now cancelled for this year, I can only construe as folly, especially as ‘locally grown food and products are at the heart of the Herefordshire economy’. But dear readers, it’s hardly the first time we’ve heard how important Welsh food and drink is to the Welsh local economy and then being told of festival cancellations  – here we go again. Apart from the disappointment of visitors and locals alike, it’s another blow to producer’s pockets and is devastating for them. As far as I’m aware there are not enough new festivals being established and in all fairness, it does take time to build a successful festival.


What’s Happening This Year With Food Festivals?

12 Feb

The Welsh Government are responsible for food festivals and an interesting Freedom Of Information question NO 8649, on wag’s website revealed that only 4% of the overall food budget is spent on food festivals. We’re told how important food festivals are for Welsh food and drink, but last year only 28 festivals were funded. Should we be grateful that fork2fork have for some years been responsible for farmer’s markets, box schemes and farm to the likely tune of £1.4m? Do we believe these three sectors are secure and growing……………………..?

Follows are figures taken from FOI 8649:

2012/13 – £311,087.01 (actual paid)

2013/14 – £141,863.54 (actual paid)

2014/15 – £184,311 (actual awarded)

Also relevant is that wag food have their own criteria that food festivals must met, including 75% Welsh food stands. Regular readers will know my views on these criteria, which in a nutshell is, don’t issue criteria unless you can guarantee they’ve been followed before you pay out tax payer’s money. For years 75% Welsh stands has been a joke, but in very bad taste when Welsh producers were not accepted for Welsh food festivals that the Welsh tax payers are helping to fund. I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get through to wag food that they’ve got it wrong, even sending lists from certain food festivals that weren’t obeying wag food’s rules. Eventually wag food were able to reduce the funding that had been offered. But this is a system that never worked and will not, unless wag food make changes. I’ve heard from a few organisers, those on staff and those who volunteer, that there is so much wag food paperwork that they feel swamped. Some would much prefer to run without funding if that was practical for them. But we must not forget that wag food need paperwork because otherwise they can’t tick Europe’s boxes – whether it is all relevant to Europe’s tick boxes, I’m really not sure.

Although we’re only in February, the list of food festivals not running this year continues to grow. Gorseinon was the first blow, followed by Pembrokeshire Fish Week, Cardiff Country Fair, which was not funded and also The Welsh Food Festival at Glanseven, which failed to run in 2104 too. I’m assuming wag food are aware of this news, though I do wonder if they are concerned about this, but as it will not hit their pay packet, maybe not! But do they ask the festivals why they are not running? Do the organisers tell wag food the truth? In the case of Fish Week, it’s certainly no exaggeration to say producers are furious. Questions have been raised in the Senedd and there have been various reports in local Welsh media. Fish Week’s demise this year is left to Pembrokeshire’s Food Officer’s ill-health but although this is upsetting news producers are not accepting that the whole of Fish Week is down simply to the Food Officer. If food is so important to Pembrokeshire and tourism, which is what we are frequently told, then pulling Fish Week is ludicrous and short-sighted. I’m told officially that Fish Week is in the middle of planning a structural change to the festival to move it to a social enterprise model, and a break for one year will give them a great opportunity to move towards this successfully. It will give them more time to plan for the new structure, looking at fresh ideas and at income streams which can assist in the growth and sustainability of the festival,

Is the crunch of the Fish Week cancellation purely down to money? Is Pembrokeshire County Council, PCC, simply waiting to apply for RDP which is unlikely to come on stream until later this year, early next year? PCC say they don’t wish to run a scaled-down festival believing it could be very damaging to the its current profile and detrimental to its future, as well as disappointing to its attendees. Damaging to its profile, detrimental to its future, disappointing to attendees what really does that mean? These are meaningless words, which in fairness are expected from a Cabinet Member or a politician, but are rarely understood by me, or the Welsh public. Why do PCC have to run a scaled down festival this year? Is that just because one staff member will be away for some time? If the Food Officer had found another job, would the cancellation still have happened?

I’m sure it goes without saying that I’ve no clue as to when wag food will announce the funding for this year’s food festivals. To be honest after chasing in the past for this information I’ve not even bothered this year.  But I also dread to think which criteria wag food will create this year. Will they have learnt anything from past years? That’s a lot to ask isn’t it? So we’ll have to wait and see, which is what my foodie readers will to do too. They really must stop contacting me and blaming me for being slow publishing the food festival list!! What a cheek some of them have! When I’ve been sent it, presuming I will be, I’ll publish it on welshfoodbites for sure.

My other concern is the food festival groups which supposedly have been set up, but I’ve heard little about it. I’m not sure this will be an improvement, but IF they can sort out the food festival calendar, that will be a something.

Let’s hope that no more festivals announce they are not running and those that do are given the help and support they need by wag food, but best play safe and don’t hold my breath………………….


Fish Week Cancelled

10 Feb

Today I’ve received the sad news about Fish Week. Follows is the press releases in full:

Pembrokeshire County Council has announced with regret that it has cancelled this year’s Pembrokeshire Fish Week Festival although it will return in 2016.

Kate Morgan, the County Council’s Food Development Manager who organises the event, has health problems which will necessitate her absence from work for some months and put a considerable strain on resources.

Cabinet Member, Councillor Keith Lewis, said: “We feel that to go ahead and try to run with what would be a much scaled-down festival could be very damaging to the its current profile and detrimental to its future, as well as disappointing to its attendees. However, looking at it positively, we are in the middle of planning a structural change to the festival to move it to a social enterprise model, and a break for one year will give us a great opportunity to move towards this successfully. It will give us more time to plan for the new structure, looking at fresh ideas and at income streams which can assist in the growth and sustainability of the festival, and allow us to come back revitalised and better in 2016.”

This is another blow for Welsh food and drink and a further disappointment for some of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers, as this is yet another food festival that’s not running this year.


Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme

06 Feb

Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme has been a regular post over the last few years, through the interest and puzzlement from our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. I have posted about two schemes in particular, Fork2Fork and Pembrokeshire Produce Direct. I’d like to say I’d investigated both these, but not sure that is an accurate description as I’ve been blocked all the way on trying to find out what benefit, if any, has been generated by these two projects.

Well today another comment arrived by post from a helpful person called Anon. I can understand some people wishing to mail me a comment and other useful information. But although I promise everyone that comments left on, will not reveal who you are – hence the number of comments from: BOW, producer, trader and foodie, the only info you must supply is an email address. I can assure you that email is only seen by me. If you then think that your email will be sent elsewhere, you do not know me very well! I refused to reveal my sources to our Rural Food Minister – back in the day when we had a Welsh Food Minister – and NO-ONE will get such information out of me, even if that marks me once more as a trouble-maker.   

But back to my SCES post which promoted the sender to communicate with me after reading it. The sender was expressing concern at the PPD project, wondering why I’d not mentioned Pembrokeshire County Council’s, (PCC), involvement. Well in my many posts about this topic, I most certainly have because PCC loaned PPD money to get this project off the ground before the SCES funding came through. PCC’s food officer, was I think also on the board at one stage. But when I put up a new post I cannot cover the whole story from the beginning as it would just take too long and then I’m at risk at boring my regular readers. However if SCES were paying me a yearly fee of £43k to keep my website updated, as they did with fork2fork, then I’m sure could afford the time to do that!!!

When PPD was set up, I as a journalist was sent very little information and precious little detail. Actually if I think back, I don’t actually think I was sent any information at all, but as I can’t be sure, I’ll try to be fair. I was told by the SCES team that it was up to each project to do promotion or not, they didn’t have too! My updates/complaints came from producers, as we had some of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers in the Pembrokeshire area.  

I’m aware that PPD scheme won some awards, but let’s be honest, can anyone remember what they were? Being the cynical journalist, unless I rate who is judging, I find many awards meaningless, but lest we forget, that does of course tick another box on the wag/SCES sheets. I’m told a review is underway, but we’ll not get sight of this until the end of this year. We’ve not been given a final date for publication, but then I wouldn’t have, because this after all is wag in control. The final crunch is I guess, we’ll not believe much of it. Yet some company will have been paid a fortune to collate this report, and that is important so wag can tick yet another box. Then will anyone be able to find this report? Maybe not – as I suspect it will be buried somewhere on wag’s website. I’ve asked wag if they’ll send me a copy when published, but not holding my breath on that one!

The crunch for me is why were these two projects given the go-ahead initially? Was the reason they got their cash because they could ‘talk-a-good game?’ Both these projects got start-off funding of £800k each with Fork2Fork getting much, much more as time has gone on. (The total cost of the PPD project was £789,660 and received £469,596 from SCES and the remainder from other sources. My sender thinks that PPD got the green light because of the strong link between PCC and PPD but that doesn’t apply for Fork2Fork scheme, the strong link there is the person who headed the Fork2Fork scheme, had strong connections with wag food.    

I don’t lay any blame at all with the food producers, my gossip is PCC wanted their own producer scheme and of course they got it. But a lot of egg has been left on a lot of faces, but we need to know who has got an eggy face! PCC got what they wanted at huge cost to the Welsh tax-payer and now it bites the dust and there’ no explanation as far as I know from PCC. I’m told as PPD was heading downwards, they backed away, but sadly that is only hearsay. I’m not convinced that PCC will explain any clearer than Wag will and just feel this can of worms will remain unopened. 

I’d be a total idiot if I couldn’t work out that I’m being blocked and fobbed off trying to understand what was the thinking behind these two projects. What was achieved and if the taxpayer has actually seen any value in the money that has been spent on their behalf. Or perhaps an easier way is to ask our Welsh food and drink producers what value they’ve seen from these two projects. ……………………………….

The other important thing to remember is these are only two of the schemes from a whole string of projects that received funding under the SCES. So how much money has proved worthwhile and how much has simply been wasted? We’ll just never be told the truth from what purports to be an open government.