Government Initiatives making sense! British food for British public

Government Initiatives making sense! British food for British public

Jamie Oliver’s campaign to ensure a higher quality of produce and skills in our school kitchens, so as to provide a greater depth in variety and nutrition of meals, is well publicised. Whilst Jamie’s motives and methods may be questioned it is clear that the ethic behind his campaign to provide a healthier, fresher product with increased traceability cannot be questioned.

Jamie however was somewhat pre-empted by Lord Whitty in 2003 who launched the DEFRA initiative of the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI). This was actioned with a view to go someway towards meeting Central Europe’s guidance and the subsequent central government objective of ‘Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy for England’. The PSFPI is designed to encourage and educate Public Sector food suppliers of the benefits of fresh produce both to the community as a whole but also to their subject consumers. In order to achieve this, the PSFPI have five main objectives:

  • Raise production and process standards
  • Increase frequency of tenders from small and medium size local producers
  • Increase consumption of healthy nutritious foods
  • Reduce adverse environmental impacts of food procured
  • Increase capacity of small and local producers to meet demands of the public consumer.

How though does this affect the Agriculture Industry in any quantifiable way and how will it affect individual farmers?

Whilst the ethic of the PSFPI is very commendable, the bottom line for producers must be how can such DEFRA funded initiatives improve farming returns?

This question is very soon answered when it is considered that currently the Public Sector food bill stands of in excess of £2 billion pounds. Much of which is currently directed to large scale food distributors such as 3663.

The PSFPI however intends to encourage public bodies to rethink the way in which they currently procure food, including the quality of food that they are purchasing and the quality of service they are receiving for the same. The Initiative is not backed by legislation however the White paper issued by Tony Blair as of November 2004 “Choosing Health – Making Healthy Choices”, sets local government guidance to which any procurement of food should adhere. It is this paper that champions the benefits of fresh produce, both to the consumer and the community and economy as a whole.

This paper now gives weight to the PSFPI as it acts to make it a requirement that food procured in the Public Sector is done so with stipulations, that directly, although not intentionally, concur with the PSFPI objectives.

Procurement in the Public Sector however is still subject to EC treaty and procurement objectives which prohibit the discrimination of products due to their place of origin and act to ensure that products are bought with a commercial gain in mind so as to ensure that EC fair trade requirements apply. In order to achieve this government bodies are still required to procure via the tender process which allows fair trade to prevail. It is at this point that the PSFPI can help British farmers and suppliers. Whilst the government procurement agencies are unable to directly discriminate, the PSFPI advocates the benefits of inclusions being made in any tender application that highlight gain not only financially but also provide operational benefits, such as frequency of delivery or adaptability of supply.

Local British producers can undoubtedly provide fresher, more regular deliveries of produce and at the same time ensure the products supplied is specialised in its specifications unique for the tender in which they are supplying. By using the framework of the PSFPI, public procurers can ensure that the requirements of any tender may best accommodate the benefits for which a local producer can offer, notwithstanding financial benefits.

To date the PSFPI boast a number of case studies whereby local small scale producers have successfully tendered for and achieved contracts to provide food to local Hospitals, Schools and Prisons.

How can small/medium producers get involved, what are the benefits and how does it work?

The public sector is undoubtedly a large market that has until recently been foregone by local producers. However with initiatives such as the PSFPI, it is entirely feasible that this market may be explored by all producers. Tenders vary in size and magnitude; therefore suppliers can be forgiven for feeling that this is a market that is on such a scale that they could not provide for. However the English Food and Farming Partnership (EFFP) act to introduce prospective suppliers to possible relevant tenders and at the same time set up producer groups to enable a number of suppliers to satisfy the needs of larger tenders.

Whilst the idea of supplying direct may seem daunting, the PSFPI have many examples where this has been done successfully. Securing a tender provides a two to four year contract that schedules a pre empted level of consumption and payment. It is this security that could provide the ‘bread and butter’ consumption that many rural business’s need and may go further to ensure security for future borrowings.

The initiative, whilst seeming idealistic in its intentions, is a definitive move by DEFRA and central government to acknowledge the worth of quality local produce, not only for the consumer and supplier but also as a means of fiscal policy within the economy.

The options available through Public Procurement are varied and it is an option that any rural food producer should explore.