To provide the Committee with an update on Gloucestershire’s farming and food sector, its contribution to the local economy and the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The Committee received a presentation from Lizzie Dyer and Ben Dent, Gloucestershire Food Partnership, on Gloucestershire’s farming and food sector, its contribution to the local economy, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Members were advised that the Gloucestershire agri-food sector, representing the “end to end” food chain, employed just over 50,000 people, or 14.9 % of the workforce compared to 13.2% nationally; and that in 2019, the agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying sectors contributed around £187 million to Gloucestershire's GVA, equating to around 1.0% of total GVA which was more than the national average of 0.7%.
Tourism also had a direct contribution to the sector and was an area that could be exploited, with 32% of the spending by tourists in Gloucestershire being devoted to food and drink, generating £340m annually.
The Gloucestershire Food & Farming Partnership built on the strengths of the County and the work already going on across public, private, research and voluntary sectors, working alongside a number of partners including Hartpury College, the Royal Agricultural University, and Campden BRI.
The Committee was informed that the County’s agri-food sector had the potential to address a number of challenges, in addition to supporting economic development in Gloucestershire. In particular, it was explained that the sector could be utilised to address social inequality and health issues. In some parts of Gloucestershire, 10 percent of adults experienced hunger because they could not afford food; and more than 60 percent of adults in the County were overweight. Local food businesses and farmers could be involved in helping to improve the County’s health and eating habits.
It was also noted that the food and farming sector could have a significant role to play in addressing the climate change emergency through the reduction of carbon emissions and capturing and storing emissions, as well as in improving local biodiversity.
Members understood that this sector was facing significant post-Brexit policy changes. The end of the Basic Payment Scheme since leaving the European Union would result in the removal of nearly £40million of support every year for Gloucestershire farmers between now and 2028. A new Government agricultural funding scheme was not due to come into place until 2024, and it would not be designed to replace the Basic Payment Scheme. The financial implications of this were significant and could impact the survival of smaller farms; food security and self-sufficiency; and the agricultural landscape.
Members were advised that the sector also faced challenges relating to climate change adaption and the use of new techniques and processes to meet new climate conditions, as well as labour shortages.
The Committee was informed that as well as the challenges faced by the agri-food sector, there were also a number of opportunities for the sector in Gloucestershire. These included developing partnerships to enhance Gloucestershire’s food supply chains, such as through opening public procurement and anchor institution contracts to SME suppliers; as well as encouraging more demand for Gloucestershire produce, such as by introducing a ‘Produced in Gloucestershire’ scheme. Additionally, a ‘Food for Life’ model could be used in schools to educate on food in order to drive up the demand for local and more ecological produce.
The Committee was advised that work had begun on a draft strategy by the Gloucestershire Food Partnership encompassing their vision to build a healthy circular economy in food and farming that enabled a viable future for farmers, created jobs across the supply chain, optimised natural capital and reduced food-related illness. The Partnership would be keen to talk to the district and county councils in order to progress their strategy.
The Committee discussed the presentation they had received. In particular, a question was asked as to how young people and graduates could be retained to work in this sector in the County. In response it was recognised that there was a perception issue around jobs in farming and food, and that this needed to be addressed.
It was recognised that the agri-food sector had the second largest growth potential in Gloucestershire, after cyber and digital, and that it was a sector often overlooked.
Members were informed that GFirst LEP was working alongside Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) on a joint ‘Made in Gloucestershire’ initiative. An update on progress with this would be provided at the next Committee meeting.
In response to a query relating to opportunities to grow procurement and sales though local companies such as Gloucester Services, it was explained that Gloucester Services had provided many local food businesses with a foot on the ladder, and that there were lots of opportunities for retail procurement in the County. It was also important to consider opportunities for the sector through public procurement and hospitality.
One member queried how local food supplies could be made more affordable. In response, it was explained that fresh local produce could be inexpensive, however thought needed to be given as to how to improve access for those without cars and to improve supply chains. The public also needed to be given the confidence that local produce could be fresher and last longer than produce from a supermarket.
It was also queried how local authorities could provide support for farmers in light of the gap in funding and the climate emergency.
There was a discussion as to how the public’s relationship with food could be improved, particularly in order to reduce waste. It was recognised that a reduction in food waste would also lead to a reduction in carbon emissions, and education, particularly of children, had a role to play in achieving this.
The Committee thanked the presenters for their presentation and noted the report.