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Archive for April, 2016

Food & Drink Board

20 Apr

My thanks to a Best of Welsh & Borders producer who rang in yestrerday and gave me an update on the Food and Drink Board – something I’d more or less forgotten about as I’d heard nothing of late about it.  You’d know if I’d been sent anything I’d have posted it. But for those interested check out their website whcih shows minutes of 3 meetings that took place in March, June and September 2015. Interestingly there are no further minutes posted.

We’ve been told that this Board will be the voice of the food and drink industry in Wales, providing direction, encouraging networking and sharing vital information. It was, as I understood, to be run by the industry itself. But in the minutes of the September 2015 meeting, which was the first full Board meeting, wag now state that ‘in time’ the Board may move to a position where is will be independent of government.

At the meeting in September 2015, there were 12 attendees and two apologies given, along with 4 Welsh Government people, with 3 apologies sent, which included the Deputy Food Minister and the Head Of the Food Department). What a shame they’d all got more important things to do than attend this 3rd meeting. A member of the Welsh Government chaired the meeting and explained the agreed process for electing a new Chair/Vice Chair. At the next meeting in December a secret ballot took place with one vote for a candidate for one role, results were to be given in January 2106. If there was a tied vote the final decision would be made by Welsh Government Ministers.  

Well it wasn’t only the ballot that was, because so was the meeting itself as no minutes are yet available!!

We’re now into late April, with December well behind us and my sources say that Andy Richardson from Volac was elected Chair, as well as being Chair of Welsh Dairy Leadership Board. So good luck to him and to Justin Scale from Capestone Organics and David Lloyd Director, Food Industry Centre, Cardiff Metropolitan University who were elected as Vice Chairs. For interest, last year Volac turned over £199 million with Capestone Organics £14.4million. Great news to hear from these two companies and you can only be proud of their growth, but my worry is our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers who often ask me who is fighting for them as micro and small producers on this board.

Anyway back to the last published minutes of the September 2015 meeting and what interested me is that on this Board, which was to be run by the industry, if the vote for Chair had been tied, Welsh Government Ministers would decide. Note, not necessarily the Deputy Food Minister, but Ministers, plural! I still need convincing that this Board is run ‘by’ the industry, rather than industry people working hard to help the Government achieve the targets they have set.

The past minutes also say that a further recruitment exercise will be undertaken to increase the breadth of coverage of the Board and to encourage applications from under represented groups will take place. Well what a great idea, ‘under represented groups’, or perhaps wag means more of their Quangos. Some of my Best Of Welsh & Borders producers have been suggesting that they form a union as the only way they see of wag hearing their voices. Perhaps if they’d done that, wag would have considered them an ‘under represented group’ and they’d be represented on this Board.

With little information I am unsure as to how much work is going to be involved with taking on the role of Chair & Vice Chairs, but as I’ve said, I’m also unhappy that there are few people on this board that really represent small businesses. It’s time then to accept that the Welsh Government is not very interested in small/micro food and drink businesses.

I’d like to say watch this space for an update, but think it’s safest to say if the Food & Drink Board Wales is of interest, you’d best check out their website and see if that helps.

 

 
 

You Couldn’t Make this Up

18 Apr

Food Festival applications apparently were only sent out on 15th April.

After chatting to a few festival organisers I reluctantly posted about Food Festival funding on 5th April. After my chats I emailed the Welsh Press Office for a press release about food festival funding. I was told that press releases were not allowed to be issued during the election period. I then asked when this information would be released to be told they’d make sure Welsh Country magazine were told, which was really not helpful. I also suggested that if a press release can’t be issued, bearing in mind it should have been issued months ago, why can’t wag food tell each food festival what funding they have received and stop organsiers from stressing about funding and get on with organising their event. Still waiting for that to be answered. But I was shocked to be sent the following with plenty of attachments.

Sent: 15 April 2016 13:50

2016 – 2017 – Food Festival Application Form 

The application process is now open for this year’s 2016/17 Food Culture Grant Funding for Food Festivals.

Please Note:

Completed applications with supporting documents can be submitted at any time up to the deadline of the 14th July 2016.

Applications will be appraised on a rolling programme as they come in, we will aim to provide each application with an outcome within 14 working days of submission, dependent on the application being complete.

The maximum grant available will be £5,000 or 50% of eligible costs.

Please find attached the following documents

.           Streamlined Application Form

.           Scheme Guidance and Criteria – Annexes I & II

The following criteria will be used when assessing ALL applications:

1)         Does the project demonstrate collaboration and co-operation between Food and Drink and Tourism sector.

2)         Is the project part of a wider programme/strategy within the area/region?

3)         Does it meet one or more of the objectives to:

.           Improve Visitor Access to and awareness of Welsh Food and Drink

.           Encourage Welsh hospitality businesses to source more local food and         

.           drink.

Increase the prevalence of Welsh Food and Drink on menus and retail offering.

4)         Will the project be sustainable in future years? Is there evidence of longer term self sustainability?

5)         Does the project identify clear outputs/objectives?

Each application will be considered on its individual merit, and in light of available funding.

I never thought it possible that Welsh food festival funding could get worse, but I am horrified to say it has, who’d have believed that? I’m puzzled that the press office couldn’t explain to me what is actually going on with food festival funding. Then to learn last Friday 13th that the applications forms had only that day been sent out, well it just astounds me. Wales has food festivals running in May and June but wag food seem to think that this is ok to send aplications forms out in April. I don’t care how ‘quickly’ in wag speak these forms are turned around, it doesn’t take away the worry that has been with many organisers as they are simply left to wait. It appears wag food couldn’t care less about the additional pressure they put these people under.

As always I’ve no idea how wag food will work it this year as applications come in and how they divide the budget up. Is there another tranche of applications going to to the bigger festivals? Or is everyone liimted to £5k? I’m sure Abergavenny, Cardiff and Conwy food festivals will request more, but why should wag food tell anyone what is happening? For me it’s like working on the outside of the secret service.

If wag food can explain how they think this is acceptable, it might be worth listening too, should it ever happen…………………….but we all know it wont! Wag food are not able to share anything with us!

I still don’t understand why food festival funding can’t be sorted out earlier without putting additional pressure on our organsiers who are doing their best to support our Welsh food and drink industry.

 
 

What A Waste Of Time

07 Apr

I last posted under this same heading on 12th November following my Freedom Of Information Act, question Number 9849 which I sent through on 16th October.

Feel free to read the full story, but to summarise, I was asking what food festivals, if any, had received additional funding from the Major Events Unit, MEU, run through Visit Wales during 2015. In my reply I was told that the only food festival getting funding from MEU in 2015 was Conwy, but I was not allowed to know how much they received. Instead I was told:

The Welsh Government is satisfied, therefore, that releasing the information would be likely to prejudice financial interests as defined by this exemption.

The Welsh Government deemed my question was exempt under Section 29(1)(b) economic interests of the FOI. So I’m told – and not for the first time – that the Welsh Government does not believe it is in the wider public interest to prejudice the financial interests of the Welsh Government and their efforts to obtain value for money in future negotiations using the public purse. I have never heard such government rubbish. The Welsh government is spending money they’ve received from taxpayers, but we as taxpayers have no right to be told how much Conwy received. Why is it a secret? How can telling me in 2016 what Conwy got awarded in 2015 have anything to do with obtaining value for money in future negotiations using the public purse? When have any food festivals been able to ‘negotiate’ what funding they could get from MEU? I understood that Conwy would have had to tick and explain why this money was needed as they completed MEU paperwork, with no guarantee they’d get what they asked for. Negotiate? That is not true.

So after my FOI question was refused, wag explained that I could go back to them for a ‘review’. Of course I did that for wag to then turn my ‘review’ into a ‘complaint’. Wag then took a further 20 days, as they are allowed to do, before replying to say my ‘complaint’ is not upheld – well what a surprise! Wag are satisfied that is was correct to withhold the amount of funding awarded to Conwy Feast under Section 29(1)(b) of the FOI act.

I’m concerned and puzzled as I’m not sure all food festivals are aware that there is another money stream available through MEU, providing they can tick MEU boxes. All organisers still have to jump through the wag/Visit Wales hoops, so I don’t understand why wag refuse to disclose how much Conwy got this year? If money is available for food festivals through the MEU then I think all food festival organisers should know about it and see if they want to apply and complete all the required paperwork. I’m very impressed that Conwy were smart enough to know about the existence of the MEU and that they grabbed the opportunity to gain extra funding from that source. Well done them!

Still not accepting wag’s refusal to answer my question/complaint, I’m then allowed to go to the Information Commissioners Office, which of course I did. After ICO had investigated their response was in brief:

I have now considered the Welsh Government’s response and I will be contacting it later today to let it know that I am not satisfied that section 29(1)(b) of the FOIA is engaged in respect of the disputed information, and will ask it to reconsider its position.

In the event that it is prepared to disclose the disputed information to you, your complaint can be closed informally. However, in the event that it maintains its reliance on section 29(1)(b) and refuses to disclose the information, I will need to draft a formal decision notice instructing it to disclose the information.

However, please be aware, that both parties have the right to appeal the decision notice to the First-tier Tribunal (information Rights). In the event that the Welsh Government decides to exercise that right, it will not be required to provide the information until at least after the Tribunal has reached its decision, and only then if the Tribunal upholds our decision notice.

The Welsh Government will be allowed 10 working days to respond, and I will of course update you when I have received its decision.

Eventually, some six months later on 6th April, I have been sent the following from wag/MEU shown in full:

I write following your complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding our decision to withhold the amount of funding awarded to Conwy Feast in 2015/16.

I can now confirm that the total amount awarded is £10,000.

No you haven’t missed the apology; you haven’t missed the explanation of why they were wrong to deny me that information. Wag simply couldn’t be bothered to clarify why the ICO and I have had to waste so much time and why they have now changed their mind and given me the answer I wanted in October. I cannot see that it makes any difference in 2016 how much Conwy received, in that I cannot change them getting that funding, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. That money was authorised, given out and spent but that doesn’t me taxpayers and that’s me too, don’t deserve to know how much cash was given. My annoyance is with wag’s attitude and why wag make something fairly trivial into a Government secret. I think I’m correct in saying that any money given out by the government over £25k is shown on their website, if you’re able to find it. But under that as I have proved is fairly difficult to find out where our cash goes.

The ironic point is whilst I was pursuing this I was also keeping a couple of AMs informed and one of them came back to me last December with the following information:

The Major Events Unit of Visit Wales also supports a limited number of the larger food festivals due to their status as visitor attractions in their own right and their contribution to the local hospitality, catering and retail sectors. Currently, this support is confirmed for two food festivals, the Pembrokeshire Fish Week (£75,000 over three years 2012-14) and the Gwledd Conwy Feast (£50,000 over three years 2013-2015).

In 2013 and 2014 when the wag food limit was £10k per festival this is what Conwy were awarded from the food festival budget and in 2015, when the alrger festivals could claim about £10k, Conwy were awarded £15,255.   

Welsh Country magazine has always promoted Welsh food and drink and I don’t think it unfair that my s I’m furious with wag and their petty, childish attitude and taking 6 months to answer an FOI question. asking a simple question should involved all this time, effort and work. Welsh Country has promised to back and support our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW, and that’s what I intend to keep doing.

You could never run a business as they run the Welsh Government………………..

 
 

No Welsh Week As Yet In Lidl

06 Apr

I received an eshot from Lidl last week and scanning through it I noted they were promoting Polish Week. Well that didn’t sit too well with me so I decided to contact their Press Office and enquire about a Welsh week and gently nudge them if possible, to stock more Welsh food and drink products at least in their Welsh stores.

I was impressed to get a prompt reply and a full explanation of Polish Week. The gist of their response was that Lidl are proud that two thirds of the products that we permanently stock in our stores are sourced from British suppliers, including 4 Welsh suppliers.

I’ve gone back to them saying I’m delighted that they stock so many British products and hope that they can increase their Welsh suppliers from the 4 they currently have. I also asked if they’d consider holding a Welsh week, at least in their Welsh stores but preferably across the UK too.

I’ve also been invited by them to a press conference about them launching new business partnerships with Keep Wales Tidy and the Football Association of Wales (FAW). With FAW, Lidl have been able to create a brand new initiative called Play More Football, which will enable a dedicated team of FAW coaches to deliver friendly football sessions to boys and girls in schools across Wales.

So I can only hope I’ve sown a seed or two to get more Welsh produce into Lidl. However dear readers, perhaps wag food might already have been in discussions with Lidl. OK I’m dreaming again, as if that was the case I am sure the Press Office would have told me politely to back off, this was all in hand through the Welsh Government.

Anyway as you are all aware I’m here to help wag food out when I can………………………..

 
 

Where’s This Year’s Food Festival Funding?

05 Apr

I was not going to post about food festival funding again, as since 2011 this has been a regular post and achieved nothing apart from highlighting wag foods lack of concern for the food festival organisers that work so hard for Welsh food and drink. Well that was my plan but after being asked constantly by food and drink producers and some organisers – this ongoing problem needs airing yet again.

However despite my best intnetions to get wag foo to recognise this is a serious problem, raising this issue doesn’t hit home with wag food. Them not knowing about food festival funding doesn’t lower their monthly pay packet, it doesn’t cause them any stress or worry and ‘should’ they attend any farmers’ markets, our Welsh food and drink producers will not know them, so no questions will be asked of them. Perhaps that explains wag foods’ apathy on this issue.

Over the last weeks I’ve attended Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth farmers’ markets and at both of those markets I was asked what was happening about food festivals, were festivals being funded this year as I’d not sent them a list of which festivals were being funded. So you see producers think it is down to me to send them a list of festivals that are being funded, it’s not wag food’s job to tell producers what’s happening regarding funding. I’m really not sure whether to be angry or sad as it seems to me our producers just don’t expect wag food to communicate to them – it’s still apprently down to me. It’s a pity  some of our producers haven’t grasped that wag food tell me nothing and the press office tell me very little either. Just because I publish Welsh Country magazine that covers the whole of Wales and focuses heavily on Welsh food and drink, why should wag food tell me what’s happening and keep me in the proverbial Welsh food and drink loop? Answers on a postcard on that one guys.

For those organisers running early in the year, it’s vital for them to know if they are getting funding and how much. I don’t think asking about food festival funding is unreasonable questions, but the problem is they are asking the wrong person. But in fairness I don’t know any food producer who is brave enough to ask wag food themselves? Makes me think of don’t disturb the sleeping giant! If I was dishing out food festival money, festivals would have been told what was happening at the end of last year. There has to be a way to plan ahead, even with budgets I cannot accept that wag food make no effort to do that. Wag food’s lack of concern and understanding for food festival organisers, is beyond belief. Without food festival organisers, we’d have no food festivals and they would not stand a hope of making the targets set for them by this government. So it’s way past time that wag food treated our organisers with some respect.

So feeling pushed into tackling this old problem once again, on 22nd March I emailed the wag press office as I’m now allowed to contact them. I was then told that they weren’t sure about timings on food festival funding, but they will make sure that Welsh Country will receive any press release ‘when/if it is issued’. I was also told that wag will be entering the pre-election period from early April and the press office will be unable to issue press releases during the run up to the National Assembly elections on May 5th.

On being told this I went back to the press office as they’d obviously not realised that if they can’t answer my question by return, I need to know when they can do so. But I was told once again that they can’t issue press releases during the pre-election period, perhaps that was necessary in case I hadn’t understood that the first time. My point remains that even if they can’t issue a press release until after the elections, why can’t wag food tell the organisers NOW how much funding they’ll get? I cannot believe that wag food haven’t got that information sorted yet, but as it’s wag food, maybe they haven’t. But seriously what’s so difficult about doing that? We have festivals running in May and June, it’s now April and organsiers don’t know if they are getting any funding. If festivals didn’t need funding, I doubt very much they’d bother jumping through wag food’s many hoops, but they’ve done their paperwork, it’s been completed and all they can do is wait and wait and wait………………………………………..

I was promised they’d find out some more information for me timing wise, but nothing through so far, despite a further reminder to the press office on 30/3.

How this system or lack of a system gets changed, I no longer know. I’ve always thought my views and comments about food festivals and their funding has been constructive and helpful, but wag food can’t agree as no changes have really been made. After five years of trying, perhaps the sensible option is to accept that I’ve been wasting my time and wag food are too stuck in a rut to imporve their system of funding. Wag’s solutions looks to be doing endless surveys through Wavehill, but that’s gone nowhere, just cost us more money and annoys producers.

For those of us that care about food festivals and in theory that should include wag food, letting organisers know about funding early on is vital. I believe we lost 2 good, early running festivals over the years in huge part because of this problem. I totally despair of this department’s failure to let festivals know whether they’ve got funding from wag or not. It is simply not acceptable. This department never seems to learn anything. Goodness knows for sure how many surveys wag food have paid for and how mnay times this issue of not knowing about funding has been raised, but nothing changes. Which makes me ask about surveys, why do them when wag food seem to ignore them?

When wag food have the time and inclination to reveal which festivals have been funded, I shall as always email the list to our Best Of Welsh & Border producers – as it will save wag food a job – sorry poor joke we know wag food don’t do that!