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Posts Tagged ‘BOW’

Still Waiting For The 2nd Lot Of Festival Funding

04 Aug

I’m finding life hard work trying to get information from the Welsh Food department. Please don’t ask me why, all I’m trying to do is my job, ask questions, get answers and not to be pushed around in circles which ultimately creates more work for everyone. It seems to me that wasting time is easier when you get paid at the end of each month, regardless of whether you’ve done a good job or a bad job.

At the moment I’m chasing to find out which festivals have been funding by wag food in the second batch. The closing date for this second tranche was 14th July and I was told these applications would be dealt within two weeks. Well dear Reader, that is a wag ‘two weeks’ because as on 3rd August there is nothing about the second lot on wag’s website. As far as I’m aware, wag food haven’t sent out a press releasebut I’m not sure. I was promised by wag that I was on their press mailing list, but for some reason, known only to them of course, I didn’t get the first food festival press release. So just in case that had happened again…….. I went on the wag’s website again, but there’s still nothing posted.

I’ve also asked the press office how Abergavenny food festival, Conwy food festival and Cardiff food festival are being funded this year. But I have been told again that ‘I’d agreed’ that I’d not ask them questions for welshfoodbites. Well that’s not  true.  I was told by the Welsh Government press office that they wouldn’t answer any questions for  a blog and that’s what welshfoodbites is. But that’s not my ‘agreeing’ to it when there wasn’t a choice offered to me. My other point is that any Welsh food & drink information that I think is relevant, I post on welshfoodbites, but also email it around our Best Of Welsh & Borders, (BOW) producers. I’m communicating with our producers, which can only be a good thing surely? However it seems that wag think our BOW producers are not important either.

I was told the Welsh Government is being transparent in it’s dealings, well what does that mean? Is it more wag words and no actions? Or is it just lip service to us, wag telling us what they think we want to hear? It just feels like it’s a further dig at Welsh Country and I can’t see why when we are trying to promote Welsh food and drink as we are promoting our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, as we promote any Welsh markets and Welsh food festivals that want to work with Welsh Country magazine. What is the problem with that? I simply don’t understand it.

But if I can’t talk to the press office I can use Freedom Of Information (FOI), so I can get questions answered, well that’s the theory anyway but I’ve met problems there too over the years. Then I can put those answers on welshfoodbites. So why can’t wag save time and money and simply answer my questions? That makse sense to me but sadly doesn’t  to wag.

Well as I can’t get that information on the three big ones from the press office of wag’s website, then my only other option is to send through a Freedom Of Information question which was done on 29th July. Today I still wait for an acknowledgment……………………………….

 
 

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………………..

 
 

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.

 

 

 
 

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.

 
 

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……..

 
 

Another Wag Food Invite Lost In The Post?

17 Jul

Well not strictly lost in the post as this one was emailed, so lost in the ether or the big black hole might be more accurate! Today, one of our most supportive Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, (BOW) emailed an invitation that had been sent to their company yesterday, Wednesday, 16th.

Here’s the gist of it – The Food & Drink Wales Reception.

The detail was that the Deputy Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries, Rebecca Evans AM will be delighted to welcome you to a reception to celebrate the Welsh Food & Drink Industry. Please come and enjoy the Welsh cuisine and take the opportunity to meet the key people from the Welsh Food & Drink industry. 

Well I’m grateful for our BOW person taking the trouble to keep me in the food loop, after guessing that I just might not have been told about this reception, let alone invited. But why would wag food invite any media, like me, that’s passionate about Welsh food to this reception? Not sure why wag food, who have told me in writing that I have a role as a direct stakeholder on food issues, then not invite me, but as I can’t possibly qualify as a key person from the Welsh Food & Drink industry, it could make sense, well to wag food anyway!

I also don’t think there’s an excuse for the lateness of this invite. I appreciate Wales has just ‘lost’ our Minister of Natural Resources, but I would have expected this event to have been planned weeks ago and the invites sent out then too. Of course wag food haven’t assumed that  every food producer in Wales will be at the RWAS on Monday and I doubt very much if they’ve all got an invite either. But with such late notice wag food are really only targeting those that have managed to get stands at the RWAS. As for ‘the key people from Welsh Food & Drink industry’, are we all aware as to who they are?

 
 

WCM Wag Invite Lost In The Post???

28 May

Too busy to post yesterday, so belated thanks to one of our very helpful Best Of Welsh & Border producers, BOW, who rang in on Tuesday to check that we’d received our invitation to the official launch of the Action Plan Food & Drinks Industry for 2014-20. Well what a surprise dear readers to inform our BOW person that we hadn’t been invited and still haven’t.

Maybe our invite has got lost in the post, or maybe wag food forgot to release their delivery pigeon that should have headed to Welsh Country magazine at Aberbanc. Or maybe wag food have chosen to continue to ignore us in the hope we’ll go away, or maybe if we are being honest they simply don’t want us there – which was the feeling we got at the 5th meeting too!

I’m no longer interested if wag food come up with some excuse as to why we’ve not been invited. If this BOW producer has been invited then surely so should we. Welsh Country magazine sent through a full report on their proposed plan, we also attended, at least in part, the fifth ‘Quango’ meeting. Yet after all that work, time and effort and all at our cost, it seems that was insufficient to warrant an invite. That of course is despite the fact that wag food are saying that this food plan is for the industry, from the industry and will be led by the industry. Yes that’s what they are saying, so it’s no longer a surprise to us that this is more government food spin. My take on this, if the 5th meeting was anything to go by, was that the meeting was totally dominated by Welsh funded Government Quangos. Quangos that are paid from the public purse and seem to specialise in meetings, especially those held during the day. Of course the government are going to give a huge focus of their time and budgets on large companies, but I’m certain they’ll continue to ignore the micro/small businesses as they always have done. They ignore the fact that some micro businesses need help and guidance to grow and there’s every chance, given that guidance that many of these businesses could take on one member of staff and give them training, which would be an all round help on employment figures and for the companies too. But I cannot see that happening as there are no Radio or TV sound bites for the Alun Davies, Food Minister to grasp and no photo opportunities for ribbon cutting either, so a real no-winner there for this ignored sector of the Welsh food market.

Thinking about it though, I guess wag food could have invited Welsh Country Foods as that’s what Welsh Country magazine was down as on wag foods invitation list. Of course we pointed that out to them, but wag food being wag food it wasn’t altered and the list of attendees that went out showed Welsh Country Foods not Welsh Country magazine. It was just too big a job to alter it and get things factually correct!

To keep everyone up to speed follows is the original post, which was posted on 24th April:

I shall start this post as I did my last post, I got some news in this morning, needless to say, not from wag food. This one was about the Action Plan for 2014 -2020. Apparently next month this Action Plan is being officially launched in Cardiff. Obviously it is not important to tell the Welsh media so early about this launch at St Davids’ Hotel, but pleased wag’s budgets can run to paying for this venue, they must think that cost effective and value for our tax payers money. Thankfully our Best Of Welsh grapevine is working well, although I was told if I’d had stayed to the end of the fifth meeting I would have been told then. Well now need to defend my corner. Initially I was invited to this 5th meeting, then my invitation was withdrawn. After making a fuss, I was told I could attend providing everyone there knew I was press! Then on signing in wag food got our company name wrong, didn’t bother to alter it when they sent out to everyone a list of attendees! However I did tell wag food we’d be leaving early afternoon to go onto Cardiff for the Countryside Alliance Awards evening but of course I didn’t expect anyone in wag food to update me. That would come under the heading of wag communicating with me ……

I’m sure many of you will be aware of my views of this Action Plan which has been promoted as for Welsh food, with ideas from the industry, not the Welsh Government. Wag food ran 5 meetings but stupidly, again in my view, these were all held during the day. Does wag food seriously think most producers can take time out their working day? Sorry silly question, we know how difficult it is for wag food to think and certainly at micro producer level. But then as that group of producers tell me wag food have never been interested in them, they can’t visualise growth for them with the right support, Welsh food and drink is important to Wales but wag food have no right to dismiss micro food producers.

I’m a cynical journalist, that’s a fact, but as I understand it only 77 ‘people/companies from the food industry submitted their views and comments. Just 77 from an industry that has 14,000 registered businesses and employs 45,000 people. If I’d have been working for wag food, 77 attendees is not something I’d want broadcasting, because it is proof of wag’s complete failure in communicating with the industry they are supposedly working for. I know I go on endlessly about communication, or in wag foods’ case the total lack of it, but I was hoping my water-on-a-stone-technique would work with wag food, but not so far. If I’d been doing the PR for these meetings, I’d sure hope I could have persuaded more to attend, which could easily have been achieved if the meetings had been held at night!!! If I couldn’t obtain e more than 77 responses I’d be asking why? Why isn’t the industry interested? Wag food could have easily got my opinion if they wanted it, which is now even clear to me that they don’t!

The fifth meeting that Ian and I attending was an additional meeting asked for by people attending the other four, well cynical Kath thinks Quango people like meetings! You’ll not be surprised that I was disappointed that my fellow attendees at that final meeting were by and large from Welsh Food Quangos, I only noticed 2-3 food producers. So what does that tell you? Firstly that Wales funds a heck of a lot of food related Quangos, so it doesn’t appear wag foods’ budgets have been chopped too much in that area and secondly, that Quangos can take time away from their desks during the day, unlike food producers.

So that’s the latest news, and many thanks to those of you keeping me updated, it’s good to talk…………………….

 

 

 
 

Further Delays On Food Festival Evaluation Report

13 May

Sorry to bore you with yet another post about the food festival evaluation report once again, but I’m still getting asked why I haven’t sent this report to our Best Of Welsh & Border, (BOW), producers. Well I thought you knew me better than that, but do apologise if I’ve not made it clear. Here’s how we work. Anything food related that comes into Welsh Country, by whatever means, will always be emailed around our BOW. The fact is we get very few press releases in from wag food and certainly no news comes in from them. It appears it’s down to me to keep asking wag food, via the press office questions. Then I might, sometime, get answers!! Best advice there is not to hold my breath whilst waiting…..

But let me return to the gist of this post. I’ve still not received a copy of the CLES/Wavehill Food Festival Evaluation Report which the Welsh Government requested these two companies to undertake. I’ve certainly lost count of the number of times I’ve asked the press office for this report, and don’t forget I’m not allowed to talk to the wag food department directly, but the press office have constantly fobbed me off. Why who knows, I’m certainly not told why. So after returning from working at Badminton Horse Trials over the last four days, I contacted the press office once more, to be told yet again: It is not available, yet but we hope it will be shortly.

Who knows what ‘shortly’ means? Well to me it means absolutely nothing apart from feeling fobbed off yet again. The press office have been telling me ‘shortly’ for weeks. So are the press office being helpful? No. Do they really care about helping me? Well from where I’m sitting I think that answer is crystal clear! Do they think I’ve nothing better to do? Without a doubt!

However I do think that now we are virtually in the middle of May, this report is purely for government purposes, it allows them to tick their many boxes for Europe. The Minister Alun Davies can extract some food facts, be they true or relevant or not and spin us another food story about wonderful Welsh food and drink. The fact that organisers of last year’s funded food festivals have no idea whatsoever what this long awaited report says about their festival. For the early ones especially, any developments or upgrading they have done have been done off their own bat. So it is apparent that this food festival report is certainly not an advantage or assistance to food festivals, unless perhaps they are running in late summer!

After nine years beating one of my many food drums for wag food to back and support our food festival organisers and therefore our producers, I’m getting absolutely nowhere. But why is this? Is it because wag food think they are doing such a good job? Is it down the Minister? Is it because the government’s priority is ticking boxes so they can keep upping their money from Europe? Is it because food festivals by and large support mainly smaller producers and wag food have never been really interested in micro producers? Is my only choice now to go directly to Europe?

Answers on a postcard please or simply post your views whenever you have time……………………