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Posts Tagged ‘welsh food’

Ceredigion Car Parking Charges Annoying Visitors

07 Jun

Ceredigion car parking continues to be a problem.  Follows is an email I received, which I’ve shown in full as I’ve permission to do so and also the Grumpy Old Geezer item the lady is referring to.

Good morning,

I am writing with reference to the ‘Grumpy Old Geezer’ article – page 52 of your January / February magazine.

We live in Shetland and had a month touring the Lake District, Wales and down to southern England during May.  I picked up a copy of your very interesting and attractive Welsh Country magazine at a cheese farm in south Wales.  As it was out of date, we did not have to pay for it – but I was attracted by the cover.

We were horrified to find when we went to Aberystwyth harbour that cars could park for 2 hours for £2.20, whereas motor caravans – according to the little pictures on the price display board – had to pay £5.80 for a whole day with no short concessions.

We did not wish to spend the whole day there, just a couple of hours for a coffee, find the local butcher, greengrocer and baker and then be on our way.  We have no problems with paying £2.00 to £2.50 for a couple of hours parking, but £5.80 for a couple of hours parking is far too expensive.  So we asked the Satnav to find us the nearest supermarket where we could park for nothing, have a coffee and do our shopping. To our great surprise, Cardigan had the same tariffs, so again we went to a supermarket. 

It would have been good to have bought Welsh food, but at such an exorbitant cost to park, we were not prepared to pay. Having found your magazine after those incidents, we totally agree with the writer.  Sadly after those experiences, we automatically headed for supermarkets.

We did have a very enjoyable time in Wales visiting friends, but would be extremely wary about returning with a motorhome.

I would appreciate knowing this email has arrived with you and would very much appreciate your comments on the points I have made.

Thanking you,

Grumpy Old Geezer Jan Feb Issue  

Why are car parks still being used as council cash cows?

In June 2015, vandals sabotaged the council car park machines in Cardigan which meant that for a couple of weeks, trade boomed with some businesses reporting turnover increases of up to 50%. Who could imagine that vandalism would literally breathe new life into Cardigan, even for the briefest time? Like many towns across Wales, Cardigan has a predominance of small shops, some lovely coffee shops and eating places, a restored castle, plus the Guildhall. But this cash-strapped council, within two weeks had ‘found’ some spare machines and Cardigan was back to normal, basically businesses struggling because of car-park charges. These car parks showed a profit of £278k and still the Council increased these charges – you really couldn’t make this up as this council continues to use car parks as cash cows. I understood car park charges were there to maintain the car parks, but the Plaid run, Ceredigion Council appear are against free parking.  

Once the ‘new’ machines were installed, My Beloved Editor, Councillors Elizabeth Evans and Mark Cole and MP Mark Williams, then attended a traders’ organised meeting, a meeting so popular there was standing room only. A couple of Council staff attended but they didn’t grasp the traders’ wish for free parking or simply didn’t care. The traders followed this meeting with direct discussions requesting free parking – but the ‘Council Said NO’. So the traders organised an evening candlelight march through Cardigan, again attended by my Beloved Editor who didn’t see a single councillor or Assembly Member there. Further meetings followed, but the ‘Council Still Said NO’. A compromise was put forward for just two hours free parking, but the Plaid Cymru run Ceredigion County Council ‘Still Said NO’.          

However in the Senedd, last October the Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government said that there should be free parking in Welsh towns in order to keep our town centres bustling. They requested the Welsh Government to set up a new fund to enable local authorities and community groups to offer free car parking in towns throughout Wales to support local shops and businesses. Plaid Cymru recognise the importance of a vibrant and diverse high street in supporting local business owners and the local economy, realising that the lack of free parking is often a big turn off for shoppers. They understand that out-of-town developments with free parking make it impossible for the high street to compete.

The not so funny joke is what Plaid say in Cardiff and what Plaid does in Ceredigion are poles apart. Think the polite phrase is – not on the same page.

I’ve gone back to the lady and explained what an uphill battle Welsh Country magazine has had trying to get Ceredigion County Council to re-think car park charges, but to no avail. A Freedom of Information questions gave e the details that Ceredigion Car Park charges in 2015/16 was £815,988 and I was also told a surplus of £172,669 was achieved. Well now isn’t that great news folks a surplus of nearly £180k but no explanation of where that money was spent. It was my understanding that car parks were not meant to be used as cash cows for the council but income was ploughed back into car parks. It was ironic then to learn that Plaid Cymru Assembly Members in Cardiff say that car parks should be free, but seemingly no-one is telling the Plaid Cymru controlled Ceredigion Council. I wonder why that is? So more hot air from Cardiff and a council in Ceredigion that seem to do as they wish to raise cash – who have thought they were both the same party?

However my main reason though for posting this item is the fact that this lady wanted to purchase local food and drink but annoyed by unrealistic car-parking charges decides to go to a supermarket where she can park for free for a couple of hours and shop there. The fact she’d have found very few Welsh food and drink products in any supermarket is, to say the least very annoying.

Please don’t ask me what I’m going to do next about this; it’s easier to admit defeat and just give up. I, along with our Welsh food and drink producers want visitors to be able to purchase, eat and enjoy local food, isn’t that one of the excitements of visiting new places? However it seems this is too difficult to achieve. If only wag food and Visit Wales could work together they might even get on our food and drink producers Christmas card list!

 

 
 

Farmers’ Market Changes At Royal Welsh Spring Fair

02 Dec

Rumours were rife yesterday at Winter Fair about what was happening about the Farmers’ Market at the Spring Festival next year. Thankfully a thoughtful food producer had already kept me in the loop, but for those of you not aware, here in full is the latest news:

The End Of A Chapter At The Royal Welsh Spring Festival

Farmers’ Markets in Wales has recently been told, by an RWAS staff member, that the Society has decided it no longer wishes the Farmers’ Market to be part of the Spring Festival but rather that the Food Hall will take over and be run along the same lines as at the Royal Welsh Show and Winter Fair. This brings to an end the farmers’ market presence which has been a popular feature of the former Smallholders Show and more recently Spring Festival since 2004.

It was in that year the then WDA, who were contracted to run the Food Hall at the three annual RWAS Shows, asked Stephen Shearman, who manages Farmers’ Markets in Wales, to take over the running of the Food Hall at the Smallholders Show. There was funding available which enabled reasonable stall fees to be set allowing a greater focus to be made on small scale businesses. The ‘small is beautiful’ mantra fitted well with the type of visitors attending the Show, and in its heyday, the Farmers’ Market was both popular and successful.

Farmers’ Markets in Wales pioneered the offering of refreshments directly from the attending producers many of whom where farmers using their own produce as ingredients. This grew in popularity and after a few years had largely displaced the traditional fast food offering.

The Society changed the name of the Show to the Spring Festival some years ago and its nature has changed. The Welsh Assembly withdrew funding in 2011 since when the Farmers’ Market has been self financing which is no small achievement.

It remains for Farmers’ Markets in Wales to wish the Society good fortune in achieving its aims with the hope that the many producers who have attended over the years will find suitable accommodation. For those wishing to find out more about the Spring Festival 2015 please contact the Spring Festival Director: Kay Spencer

To say that food producers were concerned with this news would register as an understatement. Ian and I tried to get an official update on Monday at the Winter Fair, but let’s say, ‘we were unable to do so!’

The Smallholder/Spring Festival has regularly been covered on welshfoodbites, but let me give you my take on the situation. Welsh food should always be showcase with wag food and visit Wales getting behind Welsh food at every opportunity. Stephen Shearman did a brilliant job, not only running the food hall at the Spring event, but introducing a farmers’ market at the Royal Welsh in the midst of the show ground. The market is a great addition to the show and a wonderful opportunity for smaller producers to be able to take a stand at the RWAS and get their message out there and sell some produce!

The Welsh food and drink side of the Royal Welsh has always been a mystery to me as I cannot understand how wag food can run the Food Hall at the RWAS and the Winter Fair, but the Smallholder/Spring Show was handed over the Stephen Shearman but then treated as an outsider. This though has also changed in that wag no longer appear to be in the driving seat, but have not taken their hands off the steering wheel. As ever though with wag food, nothing is at all clear. Apologies, I digress. Even when the new food hall was built, the farmers market always ran in the old food hall. But in 2011 wag food created new criteria that insisted food festivals had to have food as the core, which meant in wag speak, that shows or events that had food alongside, not just total food, would not get funding from the food festival budget. This was another wag food rule to obey, fair enough. But my query which was raised with wag food at the time and not solved, was that the Smallholder was never listed on the food festival funding list which of course was agreed and produced by wag food themselves. So that to me at least meant that as Smallholder’s funding didn’t come from that budget, so why did wag food’s latest criteria have anything to do with the Smallholder show? After further digging I found that the Smallholder Show was funded from the Promoting Welsh Food Budget, but once again that didn’t make much sense. Why was the Smallholder treated as the poor relation and why didn’t wag food do something to sort it out? After asking Stephen to take it over why didn’t they give him some support? Which actually meant wag food were supporting food producers…………………

So since 2011 Stephen has worked tirelessly to put on a food show that would do Wales proud. But instead of wag deciding this show should be funded, they left him to it, and without funding Stephen had no choice but to raise stand prices which meant some producers couldn’t afford to attend this popular event.

It’s a sad state of affairs that a guy who is so passionate and committed to Welsh food has not been supported by wag food but instead has had endless hurdles put in place instead. None of this has ever made sense to me, maybe it would if I was sitting in a government glass house, but out in the real world of Welsh food it is another pointless exercise that has hindered the people wag food are supposed to be supporting –  the Welsh food producers.

As wag food are still not talking to me, please don’t ask me what will happen next on this sorry saga. If you are concerned, worried or like me just puzzled, I suggest you either ask wag food yourselves, or email RWAS or one of your many Assembly Members.  But good luck on those options……….

 
 

Promoting Welsh Food – Who’s Responsible?

02 Oct

Now the reason I’m raising this question yet again, is because of an interesting comment left by one of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers under the post headed – Nato Summit, Newport. I’ve huge respect for John Savage-Onstwedder of Caws Teifi cheese, he’s an artisan producer, his products are brilliant. John always talks sense and his comment really got me thinking or fuming………..

What he highlighted was the amount of money that has been spent over the years on Wales The True Taste and Welsh  food festivals. John says it is inexplicable that those responsible for promoting Welsh produce; both food and drink, still get it so badly wrong. As an example he cites that whenever there is Welsh produce on the menu, it should be explicitly named. For instance if Caws Cenarth or Caws Teifi Cheese is part of the menu, that cheese should be named. The same applies to all other products, if it’s Welsh, state it clearly. He continues that other culprits are too many of our top hotels and restaurants who are still not stocking top quality Welsh produce. In his view chefs at the various food festivals pay lip service to Welsh produce, but often its just ‘talk’ and they do not as yet ‘walk-the-walk’!

The chef comment was sad, although I’m aware that some top Welsh chefs are huge supporters of Welsh food, we still haven’t nearly enough that are banging the Welsh food and drink drum. They are the idea way to help get the message across that Wales does provide top quality food and drink.

I’ve been ranting about this to wag food for years, but my rantings make little impression on them unfortunately. But  let’s think this through and ask the question, whose fault is it that years down the track, Wales still has this problem? I’m in no mood to absolve the Welsh Government of their role, but know full well that wag will pass this ongoing problem onto their wag food department. I’d partly agree with this, but only if the Welsh Government’s food policy is to ensure that government offices, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities and nurseries, care homes etc. also support and promote Welsh food. I sure I’m right in saying that this will rarely happen as slashed budgets mean purchasing will reflect price, not quality and certainly not Welsh produce. There’s certainly not and easy answer to that one, price above promoting Welsh produce is not one we’ll win.

So moving on, I’d like to throw the gauntlet down to wag food and Visit Wales. The responsibility to promote Welsh food does lie with wag food but as food festivals are now seen more as ‘tourist attractions’ Visit Wales have a huge part to play to ensure that Welsh food is always available in all Welsh accommodation, restaurants, bistros, cafes etc. They have had years and years to get this right, but it is still, in John’s view and mine too, nowhere near good enough. Now I am going back some time, but there used to be trade events held at the beginning of each year, getting local food producers together and inviting local business and tourism operators to get discuss and work with each other. I am aware that Pembrokeshire still hold one and that seems to work, but I’m not aware of any others. Mind you if trade events were being held, I’d hope that wag food would tell me, but then again sure my hopes are too high, as that involves communication and that’s never been one of wag food’s strengths!

In November, Welsh Country magazine will have been publishing for ten years. In that time we’ve expanded our food pages to a minimum of 10 pages and in a magazine size of 68 pages, that is more than a fair crack of the whip for Welsh food and drink. We constantly encourage our eateries to use our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW listing, and we certainly encourage our readers to use that listing too and to visit food festivals and markets. But is wag food doing enough to support our Welsh producers, be they our Best of Welsh producers or not? Your answers on a postcard, an email or a comment left with this post. Please remember you have no need to use your name or your company name – you can be Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, James Bond of Dr Who for all I care, but your comments are useful feedback.

 

 

 
 

Carwyn Reshuffles His Cabinet

16 Sep

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

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

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

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

 

 
 

Nato Summit, Newport, Wales

05 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
 

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?

 
 

Changes To Food Hall At RWAS

25 Jun

I’ve kindly been sent by a couple of helpful Best Of Welsh & Border producers some news from Wag food about the RWAS food hall. I suppose there’s no need to tell you that wag food haven’t bothered to send it to me, do you think wag food think I’ve now lost interest in Welsh food and drink? In the interests of saving your time, I’m not posting all of it, but thought this portion at might be of some interest, or at least raise a smile or two for those of you not attending the RWAS.

Wales is home to a dynamic food and drink industry, with businesses ranging from the micro, artisan businesses through a range of SMEs to larger food companies , some of which have manufacturing sites in Wales but strategic headquarters elsewhere in the UK, Ireland or overseas.

Communication of the Action Plan at the RWS Food Hall 2014

These priorities  will be communicated very clearly to the consumer audience at this years Royal Welsh Show, the Food hall will not only be a retail area, but an area to educate and inform the consumer of the importance of food to the Welsh economy, Education, Jobs, Growth and Wealth.  It is imperative for you to understand these changes and to understand why the changes have taken place within the Food Hall this year.

Changes to the management of the Food Hall this year

You will have already experienced the changes on the Management and the recruitment of the Food Producers which is now the responsibility of the RWAS.  For the first time this year the Food Hall will have a Food Demonstration kitchen area in the rear of the Food Hall, in a marquee, and a trade development area in the upper room to the Food Hall – these new areas will be managed by our appointed contractor Menter a Busnes. 

WG will have responsibility for the meeting rooms in the upstairs area and will hold several business meetings with Ministers and key influential trade buyers in the industry.

Food and Drink Wales

Wales has the food personality and interest to attract both trade and consumer investment while its ‘hero clusters’ made up of farmers and food manufacturers add to a unique offering that is Wales.

Food and Drink Wales is an overarching identity which has been successfully trialled in UK and International exhibitions. It relies on simple imagery and messaging which continues to evolve and will be further refined under professional guidance.  The identity will be in evidence in the Food Hall.

Changes To The Food Hall At RWAS

The few points underlined raised my interest for sure. We are all aware of many businesses saying they are Welsh companies and that have strategic headquarters elsewhere in the UK, Ireland or overseas 

Communication of the Food Action Plan

These priorities  will be communicated very clearly to the consumer audience at this years Royal Welsh Show As wag food struggle to communicate to its food producers, I shall be intrigued to see how they and the RWAS manage to achieve communication to the consumer audience. In fact I would be delighted to hear how many of the Welsh public have heard about, let alone understand anything about the Food Action Plan. Are the Welsh public even aware that the last one was scrapped early because it wasn’t working?  

Changes to the management of the Food Hall this year

For the first time this year the Food Hall will have a Food Demonstration kitchen area in the rear of the Food Hall, in a marquee, well in my view this is as clear as mud, it’s badly written and confusing for those that have no idea what the food hall is like at RWAS. It says for the first time this year the food hall will have a kitchen demo area in the rear of the hall, where is usually is, but continues with in a marquee. I’m told, but again not by wag or RWAS, that there’s now a marquee this year so actually it’s the marquee that is there for the first time and I guess it’s the marquee that’s attached to the food hall. I think wag  mean to say that for the first time this year the food hall is being extended with a marquee at the rear of the food hall and this is where the food demonstration kitchen area will be sited.  Communication is still the key wag food…………………………

Food and Drink Wales

Wales has the food personality and interest to attract both trade and consumer investment while its ‘hero clusters’ made up of farmers and food manufacturers add to a unique offering that is Wales. Food and Drink Wales is an overarching identity which has been successfully trialled in UK and International exhibitions.

Oh dear what am I missing? Wales has food personality. I thought it was people that had personalities, but seemingly not just people, but seemingly in government speak, Welsh food has a personality. Is it just me that doesn’t understand how any food can have a personality? However food having a personality was then beaten into the top slot with the statement that Food and Drink Wales is an ‘overarching identity’!

I’ve been telling wag food, for too many years, that they need to communicate; well if proof were needed, here it is and I stand by that. Communication is the key but not with jargon, mumbo jumbo speak like this. Perhaps as this was sent out to producers attending the RWAS some of them might be kind enough to translate all this wag news for me when I next see them, here’s hoping – but once again, not holding my breath………………….

 
 

Food Festival Evaluation Report 2013

23 May

Well at long last, the outsiders, that’s us on the outside of the government circle, have been allowed to have access to the words of wisdom, which were put together by CLES/Wavehill who were awarded the tender by wag food at a cost of £27,800 ex vat.

For me, the important question is why was this evaluation report commissioned? Well it isn’t, as you might think, to help, assist and guide the organisers to provide better festivals for our Welsh food and drink producers. Oh no, that would be too obvious. This report is first and foremost for wag to send through to Europe to show that they’ve obediently ticked all Europe’s boxes and have been really good boys – go to the top of the class wag.

I get cross with some producers I’ve spoken to when they dismiss Europe. Although they now sadly accept that wag waste much money whether it be from the UK or from Europe, they realise they’ve no hope of changing wag food. What they tend to forget is that Europe is only returning part of the money that we, as tax payers, send to Europe. The fact that wag have often failed to make good use of the European grants that come into Wales, is hardly Europe’s fault, but there seems little we can do to ensure that Wales gets value for taxpayers’ money.

I’m not convinced that this report is much help to our hard pressed organisers or producers, or me come to that.

When this tender was awarded, I was told that Wavehill were to be working from paperwork sent into wag and telephone interviews between them and the organisers and producers. But scanning this report it appears that Wavehill attended just 7 of the 32 festivals wag funded in 2013. I don’t understand this. At the 7 festivals they attended they spoke to just 542 people. But why attend just 7 and not all 32 festivals that wag supported? How is that fair? However get to Page 14 out of 44 pages* and I’m informed that Wavehill were ‘asked to visit a sample of festivals’. Next question is why did they choose those seven? One problem seems to be that although the funded festivals kicked off in April, wag didn’t award the tender until June 2013. But why didn’t wag do that sooner? Could it be that wag had forgotten that their funded festivals started in April? Or were they just too busy to organise a tender?

Festivals have been funded from wag core funding, but during 2009 – 2012 wag secured funding through the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme, (SCES) through the Rural Development Plan. Then in 2013, funding was back with wag core funding with wag placing emphasis, on what they’d been telling me for four years or more, that food festivals should be sustainable. Not sure, officially anyway when the sustainable button was hit but it sure wasn’t during 2009-12. But it’s ironic isn’t it that during the SCES years, when for example, Abergavenny went from £37,360, on 2008/9 to £50,435 in 2009/10 to £52,200 in 2010/11 – sustainable, don’t make me laugh. For the record, Abergavenny also got funding for their Christmas Fair too which went from £3,840 in 2008/9 to £5,093.13 for 09/10 and 10/11. I wonder who can clarify for me why, according to wag’s funding list for 2014, Abergavenny Christmas Fair now gets £7,500? How can that be if wag is serious about food festivals being sustainable? It appears to me that wag’s criteria or threat of being sustainable is not applicable to all their funded festivals? Unless my sums are wrong, it would appear wag prefer some festivals than others.

Of the 32 festivals awarded funding; only 30 went ahead. But with continued tightening of some wag budgets, organisers were asked what would happen with they had no wag funding. 35% felt that they’d either cancel their event or scale it down which is a worrying thought.

As in 2012, wag again issued various criteria, max £10k, food must be the core, Welsh food and drink forming at least 75% of total exhibitors and no less than 25 Welsh food and drink producers to be eligible for support and only specific elements eligible for wag funding. I feel there is some greyness of criteria here as in 2014, this has been clarified by saying that food should be the core and that food should 80% of all stands of which 75% of the food stands should be Welsh. Exhibitor lists were taken all food festivals and the report identified an estimated 971 different ‘organisations’ represented at the 30 festivals. No idea what ‘organisations’ means, I thought we were talking about food producers, but perhaps not!

The seven festivals attended by Wavehill were St Fagan’s, Abergavenny, Mold, Narbeth, Newport, Conwy, and Hay Winter festival. Wavehill reported customers spent £20.00 per head, which I find hard to believe. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time, at a lot of festivals and you only need to check the number of bags people are carrying, let alone the cost of the contents to wonder if these ‘average spend’ figures mean anything at all. In my experience, being approached by anyone with a clipboard or iPad is daunting, with many simply wanting to escape ASAP and offer answers they think are required to make their  experience less painful. Whilst we are talking financials, I must say that I do not accept, for similar reasons, the figures producers are supposed to take at each event. This is private, personal information and in nine years I’ve only spoken to one food producer who fills in their evaluation form honestly. Yes just the one. Are the interviewers going to reveal their salary or the salaries of those civil servants working in wag food? Of course they are not. So not impressed at all with the figures, but I’m sure the Minister Alun Davies will relish them and he’ll be able to churn them out at us for the next twelve months.

One point the report did make was the lateness of wag sending out the application forms and the pressure it put the festivals under. Well done for doing that Wavehill and as wag have paid you to feedback to them, maybe, just maybe wag food will take notice, although everyone is aware we’ve been saying that for years. I did note that the report stated that some festivals had newly established businesses of a small scale, and assumed that their presence at the festival assumed a desire for growth. Well not necessarily so, unless you asked if these people were full-time producers, or doing festivals at weekends for cash, and helping the growing black economy. Then on Page 41 I’m told there’s a desire within the Welsh Government for festivals securing funding to promote opportunities for new business to test trade – well this is worthy but it’s difficult for organisers to ascertain from application forms if the trader is professional or as we call them pin-money producers working weekends for cash.    

Trawling through the report, Wavehill had picked up about the north Wales organisers organising a food festival organisers’ conference, but no mention of the fact that up to 2012 wag had done this themselves. But guess that would come under biting the hand that was feeding you wouldn’t it? It was also commented about clash of local festival dates, but this is hardly news, when it’s something we’ve again been saying for years. Why for instance did wag approve funding for Brecon, Neath and Newport all run on the same day in 2013? Brecon has been long established but wag then decide they can fund another two festivals on the same day. What’s wrong in saying if you want funding you must change your date to avoid hampering Brecon? Is it because Brecon is not one of wag’s favoured festivals? It has not been common practice for organisers to work together and help each other, even when they are in the same area, but wag aren’t helping putting local festivals against one another. How is that helping Welsh food, Welsh food producers or festival organisers? Festival co-operation should be focused on because surely some savings could be made in say for example hiring tentage etc.

I was not aware until recently that organisers had to send list of exhibitors for the festival to the wag 14 days prior to their event. But if that’s the case, why isn’t that list of exhibitors then put up on their websites? That isn’t a problem with all festivals but it is with far too many. But who notices or in fact who cares? Well I do, because if any of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers are attending I want them to get as much publicity as possible. Plus if I’m attending, I too want to know who is going to be there. But this has been happening for years and wag have not sorted it out.

Another part that made me chuckle is that organisers have to send in a post event report and the first on their list is footfall. That question cannot apply to all festivals as some still don’t or can’t charge and entrance fee. Hay and Brecon are held in towns and no way can anyone can say how many attended. Get to Page 33 and this is then mentioned about town festivals – so a little confusing. It’s only the producers who can say a festival is viable for them or not. Plenty of people through does not guarantee they’ll be spending their money. However if organisers have got the people there, it’s down to the producers to sell to them!

What I found totalling annoying was some festival organisers had given quotes, but the quotes were not credited or organisers named.  So I cannot see the point in doing that because unless you happen to visit many Welsh food festivals and know for instance that children’s day on a Friday relates to Narbeth it’s pointless doing that or including it in this report. It’s just not interesting reading for me. If you’re getting quotes, name the people or don’t bother.

I’m unaware if all or any of wag’s 30 funded food festivals had an individual report sent to them, stating how it was felt their festival could progress. But in my view this is what it is all about. What’s the point if this has not happened? Oops sorry of course, I’ve forgotten, wag food needs to tick boxes more than helped festivals improve………………………

Please do read this report yourself and let me know how you feel about it.

* This report would not be so long and off-putting for us busy people to trawl through if so much information was not repeated and repeated and repeated ……………….

 
 

Freedom Of Information Reference 8254

01 Apr

Under the Freedom Of Information Act I asked the following questions:

1).        As not all the 32 food festivals did not adhere to the Welsh Government’s criteria, please identify which festivals did not receive the amount the full amount of funding provisionally allocated by the Welsh Government.

2)         With 2013 being the first year the Welsh Government have implemented a ceiling of £10k in funding per festival, which festivals were able to access other government funding? Full details required.

I have now got their response:

1)           Three Food Festivals for the funding period 2013/14 did not adhere to the criteria set for Welsh Food and Drink Producers, as a result they were penalised, the original approved funding offer was reduced pro-rata to the number of Welsh Food and Drink Producers attending. Those affected were:

  • Abergavenny Food Festival  (Initial Wag Funding £10,000)
  • Mold Food Festival (Initial Wag Funding £9,000)
  • Abergavenny Christmas Food Festival (Initial Wag Funding £8,500)

 

2)         In 2013 the Major Events Unit; Economy, Science & Transport Department provided support towards specific elements outside of the Food Divisions remit to the following:

  • Pembrokeshire Fish Week (£21,000)
  • Gwledd Conwy Feast (£25,000)

I sent these questions through under FOI because for years I have been bombarded with complaints from our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers regarding food festivals. Far too many saying they cannot get in some food festivals and have no come back to the standard organisers explanation that, ‘sorry we are over subscribed’. As a journalist, wanting to look at both sides, I can appreciate that popular festivals where producers can actually make decent money are going to have a waiting list, that’s understandable. Plus quite a few festival organisers that advertise with us have given me their side too in no uncertain detail. It’s brilliant for them if they are over subscribed, it’s proof that they have done their job exceedingly well. It literally means that they can then pick and choose to give their visitors a food festival with plenty of variety. My complaint arises, and has done for years, when Welsh producers are either not accepted, or are after years of supporting a festival are simply thrown out whilst some of those festivals accept non-Welsh stands and then give them the better trading spots. Last year wag food changed it’s criteria saying that funded festivals must have 75% Welsh food stands, I challenged wag food asking how there were going to follow up on this, but have made little progress. I found if puzzling that criteria were issued but no clear pathway to ensure they were obeyed. So following Abergavenny, Ian and I sent a tradestand list through this saying that this festival didn’t match wag’s criteria. It took us hours to do this work and annoying it was never acknowledged. We understand that wag food then asked all festivals to send in their list of stands taken and state which were Welsh stands. So it appears our message got through to wag food as we work as their unofficial workers.

So I’ve followed this up with this FOI but have to say that I disagree with the response I’ve received and have gone back to them for more information. Abergavenny is the festival our Best Of Welsh & Border producers complain about the most and of course Abergavenny are victims of their own success, but they have been very well funded by wag food to achieve that growth. Festivals and markets give us so much additional work and it’s now reached the point that we are not sure where to go next. Thankfully some Assembly Members are being  supportive of what we are doing, they understand that this isn’t our paid-for job,  but value what we are doing for Welsh food.

My hope is that message will get through to wag food, because we simply cannot go on like this, we just can’t …….

There will be a follow-up post, be assured. When that will be who knows?

 
 

Update Food Policy Evaluation

31 Mar

People are still asking my view on the above, so perhaps it’s worthwhile if I do my own brief evaluation. We were summoned in 2010 to give our opinions on the Government’s proposed 10 year food plan. We told them there and then that a 10 year plan would not work and we suggested a five year plan, but we were either ignored or over ruled, the result was the same. The government went their own sweet way, planning food for ten years. There’s little satisfaction in us being proved right, with no idea how much money has been thrown at this 10 year plan or has been wasted but more importantly many of us were furious about being ignored.

Ignoring food producers when they give their time freely, has in my view damaged the industry, certainly at micro level. But now along with True Taste, wag food have dumped their 10 year plan and off we go again with another 4 meetings held across Wales. The difference this time is these meetings were all scheduled and held during the day, which is perfect for Quangos and we all know Wales has more than it’s fair share of those! But what no-one in wag food appears to have given a single thought to, is how many producers can afford to take at least half a day off and drive to their nearest meetings? I’ve no idea why this never occurred to them, to me it’s obvious, but then I haven’t got the luxury of a salary dropping into my bank each month regardless! Micro producers for some reason don’t seem important to wag and I think many micro food businesses have the chance of growing giving the right support. Seemingly this does not appear to be on wag food’s agenda. Fifty micro producers could easily be helped to employ one person per company – that’s 50 people in employment and learning a trade that Wales needs.

However to try and prove my theory, I’ve asked for lists of attendees to each of the 4 public meetings. My request was refused on the grounds of Data Protection. We understand about 30 people on average attended each meeting, which is pretty poor in my book. Then Ian was told that only 77 responses in total were received. We understand that wag food have 900+ producers listed, so I find this appalling.

How did wag food contact everyone involved in food so they were aware of this feedback? Or did they just not bother apart from posting on their website? Apparently at one of the meetings a further seminar was requested which was held last Tuesday at the Royal Showground in Builth Wells. All 77 that sent in feedback were invited, which included Ian and I, but then I was told by the press office that I could attend, but would have to leave after the Minister’s speech, charming! Ian and I then spent ages emailing and phoning to eventually be told on Monday that we could attend, but had to ensure everyone knew we were press, how annoying and pathetic. I would have thought the press office would know by now that Welsh Country is bi-monthly and I was not going to be reporting on something that has not been decided. Plus our editorial policy is to support our advertisers and wag food are not yet back working with us, so there will be no coverage in the magazine, in anyway. Welsh food of course continues to be important to us and we do like to know what is going on, journalists are nosey creatures by nature, hence we thought we’d take valuable time out from our day jobs and attend.

Well to sign in and be given badges for Welsh Country Foods, not Welsh Country magazine, was not a good start, but just as well that as usual we’d already got our own badges on. As expected, the shiny suits and shoes abound as Welsh Quangos were out in force again. Ian and I stayed only for the morning session as we were off to Countryside Alliance Awards, but we only knew of one other food producer in attendance. I could well be wrong on that, but certainly not by much, as Quangos dominated for sure. To be paid to attend and collect your mileage is certainly an incentive, but that’s an incentive most food producers haven’t got and that’s a fact that wag food, sadly seem to have ignored. But the bottom line is that without our Welsh food producers, our many and varied Quangos would not exist.

Of course there was a question of anonymity or lack of from the notes from wag which I posted about in December and that cannot have helped this situation. Wag food will never tell me who has responded, but I suspect that every Welsh Quango related to food will have, without a doubt, responded. Which means the picture wag food has been given to me is blurred and not accurate of our food industry.

I’m extremely disappointed that I’ll not get a breakdown of the 77 respondents, but also disappointed that much of our industry couldn’t be bothered. If I was wag food I’d want to know why, but to save them puzzling, as many of them read welshfoodbites.co.uk, they’ll know that they’ve not re-established any trust, especially with micro producers. We circulated wag food’s draft action plan around our Best Of Welsh & Border producers and posted it on welshfoodbites.co.uk, although it’s certainly not our job to do so, but I’m sure wag food are grateful for our support!!! I emphasised that it was irrelevant how fed-up food producers were with wag food, feeling they were always ignored by them, but that this proposal, when finalised, will define Welsh food for the next six years. Despite my pleas, many of you still refused to participate and send your thoughts and views through to wag, although I think some did saying they’d no trust in wag food, so they were not prepared to waste mot of their time. Some said the feedback form was too complicated and that you didn’t feel it applied that much to you and your business. I can accept that, but only up to a point. You could just have easily put an email together and given them your opinion, telling them what’s right, what’s wrong, what you want changing and why. That is surely not too tough to get your voice heard.

Anyway the consultation is closed, you’ve missed the boat and I’m still unhappy with only 77 responses. But if you are not one of those 77 who did respond, please don’t dare give me a hard time moaning about festivals and markets, distribution, problems accessing grants, staffing, lack of communication from wag food etc. etc. this was your opportunity to raise these points with the civil servants that are paid to work for you, the people that can make your life easier or harder…………………………………………………………!!