A review is needed into whether more UK-origin food can be bought under public sector catering contracts, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.
Speaking at the NFU conference, Starmer said that the government currently spends £2.4bn each year on food for the likes of schools, hospitals, the military, and prisons.
“The government needs to encourage people to buy more British food. Let’s also look wider and further, including the £2.4bn that the public sector spends each year on catering, to see if it’s possible that more is spent on British farmers,” he said.
Responding, NFU president Minette Batters described the strict price requirements on public sector contracts as “a challenge”.
“It is set so low that it makes it very, very difficult to source British. I think the NHS is currently on £3.50 for three meals a day,” she said.
“You have to look at that to make sure the journey back to health starts with high quality, fresh, and, wherever possible, British food. It is a really important market,” Batters said.
The NFU’s conference was held on a virtual platform this year and it was the first time that a Labour Party leader has spoken at the annual event since 2008.
The party has traditionally focused on votes in urban areas, but Starmer used his address to tell NFU members that “farming matters to Labour”.
The leader of the opposition called for a wage subsidy scheme for agricultural apprenticeships and for the government to review its plans to start phasing out the Basic Payment Scheme in England from this year.
“I know the old system [of farm support] wasn’t delivering for farmers, taxpayers or the environment, but the government hasn’t prepared adequately for the new system,” he said.
“My message to the government is get a grip on this, review it fast and provide the certainty and security that farmers need,” Starmer added.