The South West Business Council (SWBC) has been mandated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to lead the development of new approaches to food supply to the UK’s public sector.
Starting in the south west, SWBC will design and initiate the roll-out of a number of regional pilot projects. These will focus on significantly increasing the number of small and medium sized businesses that supply the UK’s schools, hospitals, military bases and other public sector organisations.
The West Midlands and East Anglia regions will join the first wave of projects which will include a wide range of technological, commercial and financial factors all designed to make the route from farm to fork “more integrated, efficient, environmentally sustainable and fair to small producers”.
The initiative was announced at the quarterly SWBC Conference held at Duchy College, in front of an audience over 100 of the region’s food producers and key stakeholder groups.
Tim Jones, chairman of SWBC and chairman of Defra’s national Public Procurement in the Supply Chain Group, said: “For the south west to be leading the development of an integrated supply chain toolkit for such an important sector, and at such a critical time for the UK, is testament to the strength of the region’s business community, innovation ecosystem and science base.”
The Food and Drink sector currently employs over 400,000 people and contributes £103 billion to the UK economy. However, the country is only 60% self-sufficient in food, and this figure is likely to drop below 50% between 2025-2030. Defra has committed to stabilising the current position, and to reversing the trend. As part of this, the Government has set a target of 33% of procured food to come from SMEs, up from just 7% of farms that currently produce 55% of output.