Whether it’s improving human health and well being, strengthening bonds within local communities or improving climate change resilience, we know that keeping food production local and in the hands of a diverse bunch of SMEs creates many, cascading benefits to individuals, communities and our environments.
Given this, its important that we have ways of accounting for their ‘added value’. Otherwise, how are SMEs to compete with purely profit driven large corporates for the contracts to supply our schools, hospitals, prisons and civic centers with food?
The Government spends £2.1bn each year on food procurement. Invest that directly in local economies (which create a 3-fold local economic multiplier and we have the opportunity to strongly support sustainable British agriculture AND create £6bn of regional economic stimulus.
At this point enter The Social Value Act which came into effect in March 2012, old news you say? Absolutely not! The Act
requires public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well being in connection with public services contracts.
This starts to create a fairer space to allow value driven SME food businesses to compete.
FoodTrade recently met up with Nick Hurd, MP who introduced the act in his role as the cabinet minister for civil society and communities. He said that the Act’s introduction was most importantly meant to provide charities and social enterprises with a stronger footing on which to compete for public service contracts.
But as it stands, what metrics do we have for quantifying the added social, environmental and economic value of smaller, local suppliers?
Championing locally produced and sourced food first requires us to define what exactly we deem ‘local food’ to mean?
Hidden deep within the Sustainable Communities Act lies an acknowledgement that local authorities;
must have regard for the volume and value of goods and services that are procured by public bodies and are produced within 30 miles
Hurrah! A government approved definition of local food clearly emphasising the importance of local food procurement.
They go even further by defining a “Local Food Economy” as being;
a system of producing, processing and trading primarily organic forms of food production, where the activity is largely contained in an area or region where the food is produced
So here is an Act supporting local food economies and all the values we know they nurture.
Together, as these Acts all bark and no bite…?
The phraseology that local authorities should merely ‘have regard’ for local food procurement from SME business sadly offers too much wriggle room. Added to the non-binding nature of the recommendations, requirements can be disregarded altogether when it is deemed to be “impractical” to comply. Without more explicit guidance, “impracticality” could be taken to mean anything, by anyone.
Contrast this to what’s possible when clear targets are set: In Copenhagen the public sector has exceeded its goal of procuring 75% of its food from organic sources by 2012 and is aiming for 90% by 2015. This bold leadership demonstrates a recognition that it is our cities which will suffer most acutely when long food supply chains and the new climate reality converge.
Where does all this take us?
We now have both a definition and appreciation of the importance of localised food production. Alongside the recognition that ‘value’ is not always reflected in ‘cost’.
However, we are left wanting when it comes to identifying a framework for acknowledging the added value of SMEs or reassurances that a local agenda is being rigorously enforced.
Are we doing ourselves a disservice by not taking stronger and more decisive steps to ensure we move in the direction which offers such clear benefits?
In the short term, these Acts may lack the teeth to rigorously enforce their recommendations. HOWEVER, this is not to say that we shouldn’t keep abreast of, and draw attention to these pieces of legislation. They act as stepping stones, opening the way to further improvement. Whilst also giving opportunities for SMEs to step up and highlight the local value of their work.
We must take what we are given, but constantly push for higher targets, and more support to make them a reality.
Sustainable Communities Act 2007: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2007/23/pdfs/ukpga_20070023_en.pdf
Social Value Act 2012:
Copenhagen succeeds in procuring 75% of public sector food organically:
Food Statistics Pocket Book 2012: