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Food Manufacturing

Volume 536: debated on Thursday 24 November 2011

9. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on (a) food prices and (b) support for British food manufacturing. (82278)

I have, in the normal course of business, discussed food prices and support for food manufacturing as part of the Government’s growth review, and we continue to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and UK Trade & Investment to help boost growth, exports and efficiency in the whole food chain.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Food manufacturing is very important to the north-east, especially to my constituency; firms such as Nestlé, Warburtons and Greggs play a really significant part in the local economy. What specific plans does her Department have, working alongside BIS, to support that vital sector, including through research and development and capital allowances, and by increasing exports, thereby helping to support tens of thousands of jobs in the north-east?

All the firms that the hon. Lady mentions are household names, and indeed the food industry contributes more than £80 billion to the UK economy. As I have said, I have had representatives from the Food and Drink Federation and from agri-food businesses in the Department to ask them what we can do to help them remove barriers to growth in trade. I have very good news to report: for the seventh year in a row, UK exports of food and drink have risen.

Uplands are a vital source of food production in this country, and the Secretary of State will know that they are supported through the uplands entry level scheme. Does she share my concern that money from the scheme is often snaffled by absentee landlords, rather than going to the hard-working tenant farmers who produce the food?

When we announced our £26 million uplands package, one of the things we said we would do is give priority to uplands farmers who want to take up entry level schemes. We specifically spoke about the need for landlords to back their tenant farmers who want to take advantage of the scheme.

Public procurement is a key way of supporting British food production and high food standards, yet the Department for Work and Pensions sources only 11% of its food from UK producers, DEFRA is failing on its own policy for sourcing sustainable fish and the new ethical standards for food served in public institutions were ridiculed in a report this week for being even weaker than those at McDonald’s. Will the Secretary of State please stop clowning around with food standards and UK food production jobs and at least try to keep up with Ronald McDonald?

There is no question but that the Government, through procurement choices, can make a big difference to the food and drink industry, which is one of the reasons we set additional requirements on all Departments to buy to higher standards, including sustainable fish, when we announced the guidelines for Government buying standards in September. We do not yet have figures for the most recent month, and no doubt it will take time to adapt to the changes, but the point is that there is a commitment right across central Government to buy to the highest standards that we expect from British food producers.