Environmental Audit Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 879

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 19 October 2011

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Martin Caton

Zac Goldsmith

Simon Kirby

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Sheryll Murray

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Laura Davis, Strategic Development Manager for Health and Well-Being, Ideal for All, Jeanette Longfield, Co-ordinator of Sustain, and Angela Blair, Food Access Manager, Public Health, Sandwell Primary Care Trust, gave evidence.

Q158 Chair: I think everyone is settled. Can I give all three of you a really warm welcome to the Environmental Audit session this afternoon? We appreciate that some of you have travelled a good distance to come down, so thank you for that. We are conducting an inquiry into food, and we are particularly interested in the issue of sustainable food and food procurement, and also in well-being generally. We want to try and get the different perspectives on it. It would help the Committee if I could invite each of you to very briefly give two or three sentences on why it is important. Perhaps to start off with you could give us some idea of what the cost would be of not changing behaviour, attitudes and systems in relation to food. Who wants to go first? Ms Davis?

Laura Davis: Yes. Can you repeat the first part of the question?

Q159 Chair: Just briefly say who you are in your organisation so that the Committee has the sense of where you are coming from as far as this agenda is concerned.

Laura Davis: My name is Laura Davis and I have worked in food systems all my life as a farmer and food producer. I then made the transition to Sandwell. My current position is Strategic Director for Health and Well-Being in a user-led voluntary sector organisation. We have been responsible for delivering Sandwell’s community or urban agriculture programme for the last long decade, so very grounded in local and neighbourhood and re-generation and food issues. Because Angela and I are from the same area, we had agreed that Angela was going to address the second part of the question if that is okay, otherwise we will just repeat each other.

Q160 Chair: We wanted to get your perspectives from the outset. Then we can home in on the specifics. Do you want to introduce yourself then, please.

Jeanette Longfield: My name is Jeanette Longfield and I am the co-ordinator of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, which is an alliance of about 90 or so national organisations, some of which are household names like the Women’s Institute, Friends of the Earth and WWF-UK and some of which are much smaller specialised organisations. Our common thread is sustainable food farming. For us the cost of not having a sustainable food and farming system can be measured in monetary terms and there are lots and lots of reports showing how many billions obesity and related diseases cost the health service. Government has just come out with a recent report on the cost of losing biodiversity, and I am sure you could put monetary values on just about all the other costs as well, but I am not sure they are the main costs. These days, when everybody is talking about trillions and financial crises, if it hasn’t got a trillion after it, people think it sounds a bit like petty cash. I think the real costs are to do with bad food making us feel ill and dying sooner and producing rather rubbish jobs that are low paid and insecure and sometimes even downright dangerous and the kind of mental unease you get from knowing-or finding out, usually-that your food has been produced by unspeakable cruelty to animals or destroying biodiversity or that it is bad for your health. I think they are the real costs. They are just really bad for the quality of life all round, even though you can put a monetary figure on it.

Angela Blair: Thank you for inviting us here today. I am Angela Blair. I am a public health nutritionist, but I work within food policy for Sandwell Primary Care Trust in public health.

We have no illusion about the cost on health. I will just read a few figures. Sandwell is in the West Midlands, right in the heart of the Black Country. In our borough of 280,000 people, 4.8% of people-that is 16,188-have diabetes; 3.6%-that is 12,077 people-have heart disease; 14.6%-that is nearly 50,000-have high blood pressure; 25% of Reception-that is four to five-year-olds-are already overweight and obese. That is from the National Child Measurement Programme. 38.3% of our Year 6 children are overweight and obese. Of those, nearly 25% are already obese. The national average for that is 18.6%. So we have no illusions about those costs. Also within our borough a large proportion of the budget is spent on older people-70%, the Department of Health quoted. So if you imagine that rippling through to old age, this is absolutely critical.

Q161 Chair: Do you get a sense that the local authority or the NHS in that area is really aware of the need to count in those costs in health when planning their health initiatives?

Angela Blair: They can’t ignore those figures, but it is a complex and deep problem looking at preventive measures of which healthy eating has to be key.

Q162 Chair: It is easy to say that they cannot ignore those figures, but when the local authorities are drawing up their budgets, which they are doing now for the next year, will they be counting in the costs of not using sustainable food or healthy food? Is that something that is appraised on the balance sheet when these decisions are made?

Laura Davis: It certainly is at the moment within the NHS because the NHS cannot afford to ignore the impending costs of these time bombs. But because it is such a critical period with the dissolution of the PCTs and the migration of the public health function to the local authority, I would say the local authority, no, is not counting those costs currently. However, once the public health function has migrated to the local authority, I would imagine that there will be much more awareness and consideration of the kinds of cost that you have outlined. At the moment it is not majorly on the agenda.

Jeanette Longfield: To be honest, I am not even sure it will happen then because the costs of doing work to prevent a problem arise now; the benefits come later. So, if you are trying to do that kind of cost-benefit analysis, all the cost is upfront and all the benefits later. So it doesn’t work in those terms, which I guess is why most local authorities do not do what we would want them to do.

Angela Blair: What I can say is, in the environment now, with budgets not announced and final decisions in public health, what we have developed as best we can in our borough is factored in through the hard work of all those working within those areas across the board. So we are ready, as best we can be, but we need some leadership and an accountable stream to get the support to justify those costs.

Q163 Chair: Would you say that the tools exist to enable this kind of cost-benefit analysis to take place?

Laura Davis: Not entirely, no. There have been some moves, but in terms of functional tools that can be applied I would say no, they don’t exist.

Q164 Chair: Whose job should it be to develop that?

Laura Davis: I think that is a very good question. Obviously it requires political leadership, but I don’t think that should be necessarily just the job of politicians. I think there is a collective responsibility here. Those tools and those measures should be developed through consultative processes so that in a sense there is a knowledge transfer taking place between those who are out in the field and with the experience through to the policy levels locally. I do think there has to be national vision and leadership around this.

Q165 Mark Lazarowicz: I wonder if you would answer a couple of questions about local food networks and the degree to which they can provide a sustainable solution to producing food. I know the benefits of local food networks in terms of what they can do for local shops and farmers up in Leicester, but in terms of the impact they can make, how far- particularly in somewhere like the UK-can they make a substantial impact or must it be doomed to always be a niche exercise? For example, in the West Midlands area with a 2 million population or so, it is hard to see how, on the face of it, local food networks could ever really start meeting the food needs of a substantial part of the population. So can you answer my fears there or give me some confidence that it can be more than just a niche exercise?

Laura Davis: I think we need to understand what we mean by local food networks. There has been tremendous work around local food networks in certain areas, but from the point of view of Sandwell and where it sits in the West Midlands with our very deprived population, I think what is popularly understood at the moment as a local food network is less relevant. What we need to be concerned about is the availability of good food locally. So for us good food is more important. It is not the kind of area where you can have specialist local food shops. Farmers’ markets don’t work in areas like that. The point I would like to make is that while there has been really good work around local food networks, these are often in more affluent areas. The benefit of those local food networks and participation in them and access to the food tends to be captured by the more wealthy. If we are thinking about local food networks in areas of deprivation that exist in the West Midlands and elsewhere, I think we have to be thinking about a different model. Angela will at some point contribute on our thinking around food systems, which, in a sense, transcends the popular perception of a few local farmers supplying farmers’ markets and it’s all jolly nice but not relevant to deprived populations.

Jeanette Longfield: I think "local food" has become a bit of a shorthand for "sustainable" because "sustainable" is such an ugly word and nobody knows what it means. So I don’t think anybody in what we can roughly call the local food movement is arguing for a siege economy where we don’t import anything, we don’t export anything. Let’s be honest, there are only so many tantalising things you can do with a turnip. And, you know, pot noodle factories are local to somebody. It doesn’t mean that they are sustainable. So "local" is just a shorthand. But what localised food systems can do at their best is provide the majority of our food. That is what always used to happen and can happen again, and I think should happen again with appropriate imports and exports-in and out of a region, in and out of the country-of the right products at the right time, under the right circumstances. So it is not, "Should it be local or should it not?" It is, "What kinds of local, at what time of year, under what circumstances?"

Q166 Sheryll Murray: Going on from that question on local food networks, what tools do local authorities have at their disposal to improve local food networks?

Angela Blair: I am going to say, not many. I think that is significant because the work requires a collaboration; working on food systems is a dynamic process. I think at the moment most of the food projects, the pieces of work, have tended to be things that were bid for, and for maybe up to three years in length of time. We need tools that last at least 10 years, and certainly to be integrated within existing policy and strategy. When I think of local food networks, I am thinking of the food sector; I am thinking of the economy; I am thinking of trade and investment. That is what we need to think about. What tools do we have, not just to join up the projects and things that have been developmental work, although they need time and space within a food system to bring the diversity and the life and the links to the community? No, we don’t have the right tools to strategically embed these things in policy and everyday work.

Jeanette Longfield: I think that what can happen is that local authorities can sort out their own public sector, their own schools and hospitals, but they can’t do national standards. They can do stuff about stopping fast-food outlets opening up in vast numbers around schools, but they can’t do anything about junk-food advertising of multinationals. They can help to promote better retail diversity in their local shops and shopping centres and town centres, but they can’t do anything about the grocery market ombudsman. And on and on and on. So each issue that you look at, they can do a bit, but the big stuff, by definition, they can’t do.

Laura Davis: I would also like to add that I think local authorities could demonstrate their intent through their procurement practice. That is a really powerful and available tool. Also, local authorities can enable development through using food to look at planning policy, the public health function and economic development as a whole, and also look at ways of supporting communities at neighbourhood level. All those things actually have to happen. But one significant step back for us in the work that we do in Sandwell around food systems development has been the demise of the regional development agencies and regional governance. It is now much more difficult because a local authority can’t have a policy or procedure and actions in isolation. You need a regional development approach, and that is a difficulty for us now.

Angela Blair: I slightly changed my mind. There are not many tools, but there are many ways that we have been learning to work without tools. We found some. I am part of a healthy urban development unit based on London’s model, but the Sandwell version. For example, we look at the planning applications every week. We see where new hot food takeaways are coming up, any opportunities, new housing developments and so on. We then use health impact assessments, screening checklists for opportunities, and within that there is one on food access, there are things about agriculture production processing, community voluntary sector enterprise. We look at how to integrate the preventive health services within the food policy work and we work with trading standards, environmental health, food safety, planning, housing, transport on accessibility planning. We found wonderful ways to work, but we have nowhere to feed it up to. I think that is what we would request. With the loss of things like the national indicators-NI175 was the only indicator that had a spatial element to the greater whole about services, including food and, for example, with the loss of some of the NICE guidance on spatial planning and health and whole-systems approaches, we have nothing to feed these efforts into.

Q167 Sheryll Murray: Why do you think more local authorities have not developed strategies to promote local food networks? Can you identify any barriers that should be removed to help them to do this?

Jeanette Longfield: The obvious one-money. If a local authority doesn’t get money for doing something or isn’t penalised for not doing something, frankly, why should they do it? I am not just saying this-it is only when you have inspirational and extraordinary people in particular places where stuff happens, and because they are by definition extraordinary, in the ordinary places it doesn’t happen. This applies to anybody. It needs money and/or some legal rules laid down that mean that you have to. Otherwise you are in trouble.

Q168 Chair: I was just going to carry on from that point. If you look at the Government’s procurement policy or if you look at the Government’s localism agenda, in a way it is leaving it to each local authority to take its own initiative and in the absence of any ring-fencing and at a time of severe reduction in local authority money coming through the DCLG, coupled with uncertainty about where the public health functions come to bear, how do you see there being support for local food networks or for more sustainable food being available locally?

Jeanette Longfield: It is very hard indeed, frankly, to see where it is going to come from. A lot of it comes from the Lottery, bless it, but that lump of £50 million cash is all but spent. There will be other charitable trusts and foundations of course who support that kind of work, but it is hard to see any systematic source of cash that will support that kind of thing.

Q169 Zac Goldsmith: Just on that point, if that is the case then it seems that the campaign that you are part of is hopeless-just in the terms that there are limited funds. Any campaign that requires increased expenditure at the moment is a really difficult campaign to fight and probably destined not to succeed. I would question the basis of that point just on the information that I have had of local authorities up and down the country and hospital trusts and so on that have managed to radically improve the quality of the food, the culture of food that they engage in in the broadest possible fashion but without increasing budgets. There is a Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, which I understand has managed to come in at about 10% under budget. Merton Council, I think without increasing per capita expenditure, has radically improved. My own borough, Richmond, intends to do that under budget, or without going over. So I would just question that point and say that, given that there are authorities and organisations doing this without increasing expenditure, surely the answer is to try and learn from those organisations and work out what it is that is making them do it.

Jeanette Longfield: I can tell you exactly what it is-extraordinary individuals. It is extraordinary individuals and one thing I have learnt from being longer than I care to admit in campaigning and charities and this kind of work is that good practice does not spread. It relies on extraordinary people and anything that relies on extraordinary people is destined not to spread. You have to make it normal and ordinary, and frankly a bit routine and dull-just part of the normal thing. That only comes when it is part of ordinary people’s job descriptions and something that you absolutely have to do.

Laura Davis: Can I add to that? From a Sandwell perspective, we have looked at these various different models and I can give you an example-the Royal Brompton Hospital initiative: one delivery point, big budget; Sandwell, multiple delivery points, small budget. Sometimes the models are not transferable. Although you get innovation in certain areas because the conditions and the extraordinary people enable that innovation to take place, that doesn’t mean that you can simply transfer those models of innovation to other areas. We still need to work to develop many models of innovation and find out where they are applicable.

Q170 Zac Goldsmith: Our job is to report back to Government and hold the Government to account and encourage Government to improve in this area. I am going to withhold my next question on the sheet and say that the question really then is, if it is not about money, and I really hope it is not otherwise we may all as well go home, what can the national Government do from a legislative point of view to make sure that-in the absence of money and in the absence of inspired people in each and every local authority-what you are describing becomes the norm and not just an exception?

Jeanette Longfield: Government buying standards. Thanks heavens we’ve got them, but they are a bit feeble. The fish one is great and no unsustainable fish should now be bought in any part of central Government. That was brought about by huge amounts of dedicated campaigning by a wide range or organisations. I am not going to list them all; the list is too long and I’ll forget somebody and upset someone. And that does come at a marginal cost, so I don’t accept the premise that it has to be lower cost or zero increase. Money can be found if it is important enough. But we are not talking about huge amounts of money and again the problem is about it being upfront investments to save costs in the long term. And the dreadful internalising the externalities. If anybody needs me to explain that I will.

Laura Davis: Can I make a point about Europe and the CAP please, because I don’t think that we can talk about things in an entirely local context? If you want sustainable food to become normal practice-healthy, affordable available food-then to a certain extent you have to look to Europe and the CAP. I understand that in the latest round of discussions about CAP reform interest in coupled payments has come back again. While environmental payments are necessary, they are not sufficient to enable the sustainable food systems that we aspire to and that you have to report back to Government on. I would say one thing that Government can do, if it comes to the table, is to support the reintroduction of coupled payments in the CAP for the production of healthy, nutritious food. That more than anything-I think together with the environmental payments-would drive a sea change in production and hence availability. It would empower all us individuals working at local level and it would help to drive through the normalisation of food that is produced environmentally sensitively because of the environmental payments but with a coupled payments base of production-fruit and vegetables, for example.

Chair: Angela, you wanted to come in.

Angela Blair: Carrying on from those two points, I absolutely agree with that, even though I do not fully understand the macro-macro picture. But following on from that is also the thinking about what we have and working with it. It is fascinating to look at things like trade and investment for the UK food industry, looking at what goes in, and then you start to link what Laura says; health appears in here many times. When you start to think of the food sector, the economy, that’s what we can do. Locally we can see many things that we can share, but that needs to ripple right through and feed back to up top. For example, we are working with buyers and economic development teams. We have food sector economic action plans. We see where the planning changes and regulation changes. I disagree with Zac; I don’t think that campaigning for sustainability should ever be considered hopeless. That is in fact the heart of what people are talking about and seeing within their local areas. One thing that the Government can do is advocate a food system planning approach.

Q171 Caroline Lucas: I want to go back to the macro picture because it seems to me that there are a huge number of things that Government could do that would allow local food networks to flourish, and I don’t want to lose the moment just to capture some of them.

I don’t know if you still agree with some of the things that I was looking at years ago; things like EU procurement policy are not terribly helpful. Yes, you can get round it, but again you need the extraordinary people to take the risk, to think, "I could probably find a way around the procurement policy," instead of having a procurement policy that allowed you to put local first rather than last, as it were. That would be one thing-I would be interested to know if you would agree. You mentioned the internalisation of external costs, and yes it is a mouthful but absolutely essential to all this. If you have a food system where the price signals are completely wrong, it is not surprising that we end up with very perverse results. So why is it that healthy food often costs more than less healthy food? That is to do with the fact that we do not choose to tax fertilisers and those sorts of impact. We do like to tax employment, for example. It is not beyond the wit of the Government that chose to do it to change some of those price signals so that employment was cheaper as it were and inputs like fertiliser were more expensive. I do think it is important to capture the idea that there is quite a lot Government could do that would make a real difference to this. At the moment it feels to me as if we have a lot of lip service about the nice little local economy over there and it can go and do a bit of flourishing on its own and we will go on with business as usual. That just is not going to work, I don’t think.

Laura Davis: Very local food economies of the sort that you are referring to will never be able to feed dense urban populations without serious innovation. One of the things that we are talking to our local authority about at the moment-because there is so much contaminated land-is that urban agriculture will never be able to produce significant amounts of food, but local authorities have vast amount of vacant building space and car parks and things like that and there is some real innovation that could take place in food production there. The problem is that innovation in a contracting economy is not something-people won’t take risks. So if you want this kind of innovation to take place-real innovation-and if we are really looking at the long term and we bring in food-security thinking to this, we need that innovation in the food sector. Although it is important, it is not just about reconnecting people in cities with farmers and things like that. We need real innovation around how to feed urban populations. That is not going to happen in a contracting economy unless there is political will and possibly incentives such as rate rebates and real incentives that enable and drive innovation. On the one hand, if you have changes at European level, policy that is driving change at the same time as local authorities are looking at what is possible and driving change, then we get somewhere.

Jeanette Longfield: I agree completely about procurement law and completely about taxes. Interestingly, food tax is an issue that is completely off limits to discuss. It is now starting to come up on people’s agenda with the soft drink taxes in the USA and various other places; the Danish fat tax has attracted a lot of attention. I am starting to think that maybe the issue of internalising externalities might be an area where we can do some more work as part of the movement. You are right; unless that changes everything else is going to be a lot more difficult-not impossible, but difficult.

Q172 Martin Caton: You have mentioned planning as at least a potential tool to move in the right direction. Are you aware of any local authorities that have provision for sustainable food as part of their local development plan?

Jeanette Longfield: Gosh, yes. They are flowering all over the place. London has a sustainable food plan. Bristol has just launched a new one. Stuff is going on in Manchester. There is a flowering of food strategies and plans all over the place.

Q173 Martin Caton: So there is some best practice being spread?

Jeanette Longfield: There are loads of isolated cases-I think Professor Kevin Morgan put it as something like "sparkling diamonds of good practice in a sea of darkness". They are always like that and they are subject to political ebbs and flows. They have political support at one moment and then they lose it so the sparkly diamond goes out. Then it pops up again somewhere else, but what it doesn’t become is a sea of light unless and until you have central Government support and also change at the EU level.

Q174 Martin Caton: So, for instance, if planning guidance included this sort of provision that would be a step forward?

Jeanette Longfield: It would definitely help, yes.

Laura Davis: The loss of the regional spatial strategies is significant in this respect because what they did is give a joined up mechanism. As you have said, local authorities now have to tackle this individually. There was a food access indicator that was being fed into the regional spatial strategy and it has just gone.

Jeanette Longfield: You will also know that people are really worried about the National Planning Policy Framework, the danger that agricultural land will get built on, that precious green spaces in cities will get built on, that there won’t be the protection of town centres that there was. People are really scared about that stuff.

Angela Blair: If I can just follow on from that, we do have a housing indicator in the Black Country core strategy; I don’t know if other core strategies have. HOU2 is an indicator that does relate down to food; high, low and medium impact for a new housing development. Obviously we have to think of what is existing, as well as the new development coming in. So there is an indicator that can be monitored and that will be a help. We did respond to the National Planning Policy Framework by Monday, 5 pm, and in that one of the key things we were saying is about a food systems approach being advocated. In America, the understanding is that it does, with food, work best at a regional level, the way that food systems are set up. There are real opportunities with planning-we see positive opportunities-but I think there are two mentions in the National Planning Policy Framework: one is about supporting growth with the food production processing and the other is about local shops. So unless those other things-the tools and the indicators and standards-exist, it is not enough. But, yes, there is good opportunity, and especially of accessibility planning. I think that is a real opportunity as to the spatial element, because the whole problem is that, even with localism and all the changes happening, we don’t in health look at food spatially at each scale. We think of it in health terms, but what you need to do is something in the middle between the spatial element and the activities going on across the board.

Q175 Sheryll Murray: You have mentioned planning a few times and the National Planning Policy Framework, but surely if you give local authorities the power to be able to grant planning permission for things like allotments then you are, in a time of austerity, encouraging people to perhaps grow healthy food and at a lot less cost than they would normally find that they would have to spend on perhaps less healthy food. I would just like to know what you think about that because at the moment the planning policy does preclude some areas from being able to use land for allotments.

Jeanette Longfield: I think there is absolutely no doubt that the growing of food in towns and cities is an absolutely brilliant idea and anything that can be done to not just encourage but make local authorities-because some do and some don’t-do that for their local communities would be absolutely fantastic. But however fantastic local food growing is, as Laura has already said, it is not actually going to feed us adequately. It is great for a gazillion reasons-for reconnection, for education, for sociability, for a bit of extra fruit and veg, for greening the cities, blah, blah, blah. But it is not actually going to fill your shopping basket every week.

Q176 Sheryll Murray: But it would certainly contribute. Do you agree?

Jeanette Longfield: Absolutely.

Laura Davis: Can I make a very small point please?

Chair: Very quickly.

Laura Davis: One of our problems in Sandwell is land contamination. So in very deprived ex-industrial urban communities the guidance might be there, but actually-this is our experience in Sandwell-there is no clean land and there are huge swathes of land that the state of them is unsafe. We can’t put people with spades and forks on to them and tell them to grow healthy food.

Q177 Sheryll Murray: But you could put raised beds and rent them out.

Laura Davis: It does cost a lot of money. You need capital investment and the problem at the moment is there is no capital for regeneration. Regeneration funding has disappeared.

Q178 Martin Caton: Continuing with local authority functions, what about the environmental health departments? Do they have a role to play? Are they playing it?

Jeanette Longfield: Absolutely-environmental health, trading standards and public analysts. There are hardly any public analysts left. This is really scary. The whole area of food law enforcement, protecting the public interest and also using the expertise that the food law professionals have, including environmental health, is really important and is also getting squeezed because each one of those professionals-environmental health, trading standards, public analysts-has a load of other stuff to do as well as food and they have less money to do it with. So yes, they are fantastically important and, again, great examples of good practice sprinkled about the place, but it is not routine yet.

Angela Blair: Can I add another point? We have a very good working relationship with the local authority and with trading standards and environmental health and food safety and what is interesting when you are looking at a food systems approach or working together in healthy urban development, you see the enhanced services that can be provided in terms of trading standards. Trading Standards did some nutritional analyses of fast food to get better evidence for then developing the SPDs-supplementary planning documents-on limiting fast food around schools. Also, environmental health already visits premises, so they have opportunities not only to look at the safety and hygiene, but also to think solution-focused about the business and the food sector and what else they might need. Very quickly, one other thing is that in terms of monitoring and measuring access to food the problem always comes full circle to, where is the data? Who is going to measure it? Unless you are doing an academic study, which has been done and which we learnt a great deal from, there are ways-for example, food safety databases, the Healthy Start database. It has proxy indicators in terms of fruit and veg and so on. But you could enhance that. When a check has been made-someone is physically going into a business-they could be looking with solution eyes as to the food sector itself.

Q179 Martin Caton: You have already mentioned the transfer of public health responsibility to local councils. Does that provide an opportunity to promote a healthy food agenda by those local councils?

Jeanette Longfield: It does if there are some suitable incentives to do it and some penalties for not doing it. They don’t have to be financial, but that would help, and if they can’t be financial then they need to be legislative, ideally both. Otherwise it is just going to be sparkly diamonds of good practice again. So yes, there is an opportunity there, but not all the areas will be able to take it because they have other stuff to do.

Laura Davis: The public health budget, we are told, is going to be ring-fenced. I think there is to be a certain amount of moving deckchairs around as to what is public health, so that budget might not be as safe as we think it is. Another issue, when you look at the Department of Health guidance, where there is an expectation that Directors of Public Health will report to the Chief Executive, the guidance says that individual local authorities will be able to decide what is best for them. So in effect what we might see is that directors of public health in some local authorities will not be reporting directly to the Chief Executive and they will not be holding a budget; that will be held by somebody else. I think what can happen is we are going to get a very mixed picture, with more opportunities in some places than others depending on the individual arrangements of local authorities in relation to the public health function and how it fits within the local authority. At the moment that picture is not yet clear.

Angela Blair: Personally, I see every opportunity. I understand the threats, but at a time when it is hard to be creative, it is hard to collaborate and so on, this work with the economic regeneration, with spatial planning and with our colleagues in environmental health food safety and so on-simply by being close and being able to sit with them and develop ideas that in the past were on bids and projects-now is the time to root it directly into the mainstream as a lifeline to central Government. Every opportunity is there for a food-system planning approach and to meet the targets on sustainable foods.

Martin Caton: Thank you very much.

Chair: Let us move on to the role of supermarkets.

Q180 Simon Wright: I would like to ask about the role of supermarkets and whether they are contributing in any way to the development of local food networks and whether you can come up with any good examples of good practice involving supermarkets.

Jeanette Longfield: There are loads of examples of good-ish practice. There is Marks & Spencer’s Plan A; there’s the new Sainsbury thing. The Co-operatives, frankly, have been doing it for longer than anybody else, but they are smaller, so they don’t get to shout about it so loudly. They all want to do their unique selling point, blah, blah, so some bits are covered more than others. To be honest, I think that the best thing that I have heard anybody connected with a supermarket say in recent years is Justin King-the boss of Sainsbury’s-say that what he wants in certain areas is a legal level playing field-basically because he is fed up with being undercut by Tesco. It is really refreshing and helpful to get successful leaders in industry like him saying that legislation sometimes is the right thing to do. It avoids good practice being undercut by bad practice.

Laura Davis: As an ex-farmer as well, there have been some improvements in terms and conditions for the suppliers of supermarkets, and I was one at some point, but it is still a very big picture and the power of the supermarket buying desks is immense. When you look at a European level it is absolutely immense, and I am not sure that the people who are making the decisions on the buying desks are plugged into and being directed by the agenda of Sainsbury’s around sustainable food.

There is one other Sandwell perspective as well that I would like to bring to this. Yes, it would be great, what Marks & Spencer does is great, what Sainsbury’s are talking about is great, but those are not the operators in areas of deprivation. We have to be talking about the Aldis, the Lidls and the convenience stores. That is a danger with a supermarket-led development-that again the benefits will be captured by the wealthy, and that probably if they start producing foods sustainably it will be badged and labelled and priced up and therefore in terms of that mass availability it will remain limited. It will become another niche product that is unaffordable to people living in deprivation.

Angela Blair: But there are all these sorts of things that can be done and the reality is about 80% of people do use a supermarket. But we are very clear on that. We are at saturation point within our borough with the new largest Tesco that is just being built. It just started on Tuesday, yesterday. But there are useful things that they can do because of their visibility and the fact that people visit them. We use them as best we can and have good relationships with the four big players in our borough. We do supermarket tours as part of lifestyle services. We, for example, potentially could work on promoting Healthy Start much more widely. So with their visibility and with their everydayness they can do wonderful things. But only as part of a wider food system approach that recognises that diversity and independent retail are absolutely equally important to the larger suppliers. That is where it goes back to the planning regulation. If you are doing a health impact assessment or using a screening checklist it will advise the planners and say, if there is a monopoly in this area what could you do? And it will say things that check those points and give us some advice, and I think rightly you could then sit at pre-application stage with different developers, including the big ones, and say this is a whole borough. What is best for the whole borough? And they are a part of it. I think again it is part of the wide approach.

Q181 Simon Wright: Are there any areas of policy that need to change in order to help the supermarkets better co-operate, better engage?

Jeanette Longfield: Well, it would be nice to have a grocery trade adjudicator with some teeth and some money. I know that there are difficulties in competition law that the Food Ethics Council has done a paper on, which I am afraid I am not as familiar with as I should be. It would be helpful to have some changes in competition law so that they can collaborate in the public interest rather than collude against the public interest, which is what competition law was designed to stop them doing. They do do things of their own volition as Angela was saying and they can do some really helpful choice editing. For example, both the Co-op and Sainsbury’s have done things where they have said, "Right we will just do Fair Trade chocolate, we’re just doing Fair Trade bananas. If you come in our shop, you can’t have non-Fair Trade whatever it is." And frankly, that’s fantastic. There has been no consumer revolt. People haven’t said, "Where are the non-Fair Trade bananas? I really liked them." People trust the retailers to make those kinds of choice for them and sometimes they do make those choices for them. That’s great. Sometimes they don’t and people think they have already done it and that’s not helpful.

Q182 Caroline Lucas: I just want to push a little bit further on the sheer amount of power that those supermarkets have. The very few of them have an enormous amount of power and I wonder if you think that until we break them down in some way by having some limit to their market share then they may well have a nice range of Fair Trade bananas but essentially they are not going to change their model when they are just so enormously powerful in the market place. How significant is that?

Jeanette Longfield: It is hugely significant. I am not an economist, but it looks like an oligopoly to me and I thought that we weren’t supposed to have them so I don’t quite know why we have one and nobody is doing anything about it.

Angela Blair: If I can add on as well, some of the initial research in Sandwell was measuring access to healthy food, looking at the spatial element and affordability for healthy eating, and in that you realise the diversity that still exists, not only in Sandwell but across the country. If you were to add up the sums of all the independent food retailers it would be greater than the largest food retailers and in fact represent better those communities in which they live. A real strength of our borough is the diversity of different cultures and foods. So we want to keep that. That is where the economics-the food sector side-could help with the power relationship. But for a systematic and practical way I don’t think that some of the-we need the Competition Commission, we need the adjudicator, but actually we just need some practical facts laid in front of us to systematically go through and maybe localism could help that, but we need support structures in an area like Sandwell to do it. A couple of facts that I didn’t read out at the beginning were that 30.8% of our children in our borough-22,500-live in relative poverty and we have heard recently that will be increasing nationally. Also, 19.4% of our population aged between 16 and 64 have no qualifications. So localism, big society and so on, there are some ideas in there that we need to move towards but without the support and sensitivity we see the gap widening.

Laura Davis: I just wanted to say that landbanking, longterm landbanking, by supermarkets should not be allowed.

Chair: I think in terms of the areas of deprivation, which is the particular theme that is coming through what you are saying, if there are things that we have not discussed in the session that you want to bring further to our attention we are very happy to receive those. Zac, did you want to come in?

Q183 Zac Goldsmith: A very quick point, probably along the same lines. I was hoping to be able to press you more on the point that Simon made about specific policies the Government can introduce that would put the supermarkets into a position where they are more supportive of the local food economy generally. Also, specifically areas where Government can help the supermarkets, whether it is by addressing the procurement laws that Caroline talked about earlier-areas where you think Government could help supermarkets, areas where you think the Government can require supermarkets. It is possible that you should answer that in writing later because I know that Joan is worrying about time, but I think it would be nice if you could elaborate on that at some point.

Jeanette Longfield: I am not sure the supermarkets need any help from Government. I think they might need to be broken up by Government. I am not convinced that oligopolies are good for anything in any sector. I don’t think the food sector is unusual in that sense and I think a sustainable and diverse and good system is-

Q184 Zac Goldsmith: I just want to interrupt there. I totally agree with you. Tesco is already far too big. I think the points that Caroline made are absolutely right. But there is no appetite at all as far as I can see in Government to break up the big supermarkets now. So I am not suggesting you should not talk about that or push that, but in the absence of it, what specifically can Government do to ensure that supermarkets have a more positive contribution to make than they do at the moment?

Angela Blair: Community infrastructure levy. We haven’t heard the final arrangements yet, but there is one mechanism by which things could be redistributed. For example, here opens our new massive Tesco so how will we do that redistribution? I know section 106 for example, but they were decided long ago. It has been 10 years coming. Community infrastructure levies should be the way that things like sustainable foods are systematically worked through with community involvement and some vision of what they want. It can link things about growing food to make things more visible for that area, but actually linked to health and linked to infrastructure for that area that relates to food. So there is one attempt.

Chair: I am just conscious of our time because we have already overrun this session, but there are further questions. Simon, do you just want to keep on with that?

Q185 Simon Wright: We have had evidence from a number of producers that there is a failure in some parts of the chain to pass on financial returns fairly. I just wonder in relation to local food networks, what is preventing farmers and other producers from greater involvement in these networks?

Jeanette Longfield: The farmers that are linked up to the big supermarkets are locked in in various ways so they have invested heavily in equipment, systems, labour and so on, and once you have invested in thousands of pounds worth of dairy kit or whatever it is, it is quite hard to get out of it, so they are kind of stuck and locked into the big contracts with the big buyers. So getting from where very many of the larger farmers are to where they might like to be in a more diverse system-selling to a wider range of buyers that might include a supermarket but not only that-will need some kind of transitional help. I don’t quite see how they can get from where they are to where they might like to be. Also, it is a bit scary. If you are a producer and you are not really a marketing person, you are going to need a bit of training or you are going to need some marketing help. I was in a meeting only yesterday where a Welsh farmer said, "We’ve just got into a community-supported agriculture scheme because we are fed up with dealing with the supermarkets. It’s the best thing I’ve done in 20 years," and it has taken him 20 years to pluck up the courage to do it, so training, money, support.

Laura Davis: As an ex-producer, I can tell you absolutely that people do not innovate when their back is against the wall. Really, your question relates to innovation and how that innovation can be seeded and encouraged to move it forward. I can tell you that if you leave producers alone, just alone, and you can say anything you like about innovation, again you will only get the exceptional people who will do it. Again, I think it relates to what I said about CAP reform. You can drive things through that will support farmers to innovate towards these more healthy and sustainable agricultural and food production systems, but the way things are at the moment in the economy people feel threatened, and you will not get that innovation unless it is driven in some way. So I think CAP and a sound, comprehensive Government policy, perhaps linked to certain types of incentive, and knowledge transfer, are your only hope. But you will not get sufficient innovation in the current economic climate, except from exceptional individuals, and that is not enough.

Q186 Simon Wright: There is a certain assurance by being in those contractual relationships, though, with the supermarkets. What would be the motivation to pluck up the courage to make a transition to engaging more in local food networks and moving away from the supermarkets on the part of the producer?

Jeanette Longfield: The main motivation is going to be financial and the difficulty is of course that the alternative food supply systems are quite small and not that lucrative at the moment. But that is one of the things I have never understood about farming-that the industry that brought us the phrase "don’t put all your eggs in one basket" seems to routinely put all its eggs in one basket and not to diversify. So maybe some might be motivated not only by business reasons, but maybe by feeling more secure, by having more diverse systems, having seen some of their colleagues go under by having invested too heavily in just one supplier.

Angela Blair: Can I just add on something very quickly to that? The fact is that those that exist now are the exceptional ones, the fact that they are still there. So it is the ideal time, like Laura is saying, to root policy in some kind of systematic structure with targets that can support that innovation, and we can see locally how that could happen, but timing is very difficult, managing all those different things that happen.

Laura Davis: I think, to sound positive, you have to implement it. I think that with the periodic changes of Government administration, there is no continuity, and transforming farming systems to more biological farming systems-as I said, I am an organic food producer-takes time, it takes investment, it takes commitment, it takes innovation. The constant changes in policy and direction are acting against what we want to see happen.

Q187 Peter Aldous: Does it automatically follow that where you have more local and more sustainable foods customers have to pay more?

Jeanette Longfield: No. Sometimes you do, and sometimes there is a very good reason to pay more. I am very often asked, "The problem with sustainable food is it always costs more. What about people on low incomes? You need to make food cheap so people on low incomes can afford it." Frankly, that way lies madness. You get into a downward spiral where food is cheap, so the people who produce it get bad wages, so they have low wages, so they can’t afford food, and down and down you go. The problem of food pricing is not that food is too expensive; it is that wages are too low and benefit levels are too low. So we need to get into a virtuous upward spiral. There are possibilities for buying local and good and sustainable food more cheaply through bulk schemes, direct sales, food co-operatives and so on and so forth, but that is more difficult to organise. Obviously, most people want to go to a shop or to a market, like everybody else.

Angela Blair: I think both Laura and I agree with the point about the minimum income standards. The minimum income standards show that you are not able to have a healthy and sustainable diet. We would also say that benefit levels are not sufficient. But I do think there is a real opportunity, for example-I know I am drumming on about diversifying the food sector-to look at jobs. In our borough 13% of people are employed within production, processing, retail or catering. So you could be looking at jobs within that, and skills. The market garden, for example, is not just about the three acres it is on; it is about the web of skills and training that could be the future food producers, retailers, distributors and so on.

Laura Davis: Again, I think you are talking about innovation within-I localised my production and distribution on my farm and totally transformed the farm economy by doing local distribution and cutting out-even then, in those days-the huge overheads. Innovative ways of cutting out the overhead costs of transport, distribution, packaging, supermarket requirements that lead to 50% of my crop being rejected. Again, you are talking about innovation. It can be done. It can be done, but it needs a lot more work and a lot more investment and a lot more development. So I encourage everybody again, be brave individually.

Angela Blair: Local enterprise partnerships may be a way. I do not yet see evidence of that. But at a higher level than local, whatever that level is, there does need to something in between national and local. But that is maybe a way that could give the confidence to our economic development department and then right through.

Chair: We really are almost out of time. I am really sorry.

Q188 Peter Aldous: Just one more; Jeanette actually touched on it. As well as price, how do you improve accessibility to sustainable food to local communities and to local people?

Jeanette Longfield: It is about making food affordable, available, and attractive. So the right price is not necessarily the cheapest available, so in a wide variety of different kinds of shop, market, catering outlet, but attractive, to be honest, is the most important bit. At the moment, sustainable food-which I hardly ever call it; I prefer to call it good food, because sustainable food, either people don’t know what it means, or they think they know what it means and they think it means lettuce and lentils, so not nice. People will pay for food that they think is worth paying for. Most people will happily pay £2 for a coffee and then if you ask them to pay £2 for a chicken, they will go, "Oh". That is because the chicken producers do not have the marketing budget that the coffee people have. So if you make things attractive, people will happily pay.

Q189 Peter Aldous: And what do you mean by attractive?

Jeanette Longfield: Tasty, delicious-

Laura Davis: Visible.

Jeanette Longfield: Aspirational. All the things that the people who market junk foods know how to do, but not marketing junk food-marketing good food instead.

Q190 Peter Aldous: Do you think there is a situation that some marketers of junk food are very skilled at creating the impression that they are providing sustainable food?

Jeanette Longfield: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Q191 Peter Aldous: How do you address that?

Jeanette Longfield: There is a huge amount of green-wash going on, and partly it is not tackled because the few law enforcement officers-environmental health, trading standards, public analysts-do not have the money to nick them, basically. The Advertising Standards Authority is funded by the advertising industry, so in the main they don’t do terribly much. So they get away with it.

Laura Davis: I know there is a framework for preventing people from making biased or inaccurate health claims on food products, so maybe there is a way of looking at to see if it is transferable. I do not know, it may not be, but there is that at least as an example to look at.

Angela Blair: Our first attempt was what Change for Life tried to do in the health field, even though it was pretty shy compared to Marks & Spencer’s saucy adverts. But Change for Life did get on before "The Simpsons", so there was an attempt with them and their retail convenience store, getting visible, accessible, fruit and veg, and so on before "The Simpsons". It was a shy beginning, but if those companies-they can sell anything, and I think that is the thing. In health we are always the poor cousin when we are trying to do something, and I think that Change for Life was a brave attempt. But it was again a project that needs to be rooted in the national policies and in an approach that spans all the elements.

Jeanette Longfield: That is apparently "gently sparkling" and that is "delightfully still".1

Chair: I think that that is something the Committee is very well aware of, and we shall not be overlooking it in the course of this inquiry I can assure you, but just talking about food and sustainable procurement issues, I want to hand you over to Zac Goldsmith to ask you a very quick series of questions.

Q192 Zac Goldsmith: Jeanette has already touched on the Government buying standards. I think it would be useful to start off by hearing what you think is wrong with the standards-where they can be strengthened, specifically.

Jeanette Longfield: To be honest, it is quicker to say what is right. What is right is that they exist, and what is right is that all fish have to be from sustainable sources. Everything else is feeble. The egg standards are rubbish; they have not included Red Tractor even as a basic minimum, which is unspeakably ridiculous. They have not set high enough aspirational standards for organic and LEAF certified. Fair trade is pathetic; that should be much higher than it is.

Q193 Zac Goldsmith: Do you think we would be able to find anyone in sustainable food, in the movement, who would contradict what you are saying? Is that a view that is held by anyone involved in the broader campaign?

Laura Davis: It is very widespread.

Jeanette Longfield: I think even people who do not normally agree with Sustain and its members agree that it is feeble. I do not know of anybody who is going, "Woohoo, Government buying standards!"

Q194 Zac Goldsmith: As I understand it, even the NFU backed a much stronger line than this.

Jeanette Longfield: Absolutely right, yes.

Q195 Zac Goldsmith: Why do you think it is that what exists is so far away from what pretty much everyone in the sustainable food and farming movement is calling for? Why do you think that is?

Jeanette Longfield: Somebody, who is either a fool or a knave, or maybe there is more than one person, told the responsible Government Minister or Ministers that this was not possible under EU procurement laws, and that is wrong. They either know it is wrong and they were misleading their Minister or they should be sacked because they should have known that EU procurement law does not prohibit this kind of thing.

Q196 Zac Goldsmith: I know we are out of time. Just one question. Let us hope that at some point we can improve these standards, and we will talk to you again and perhaps you will have a different impression, but given that these are the standards that exist, what scope is there, do you think, for expanding the area of the public sector that they could be imposed upon? Do you believe it is possible to have the buying standards imposed on local authorities?

Jeanette Longfield: I always believe it is possible; that is why I get up every day. Yes, I think there is a lot of scope, because they now exist and they should, as a matter of urgency, next be applied to hospitals, because they are one of the few areas of the public sector that are not governed by anything, apart from the basic food safety, which is scandalous. There is an appetite among some local authorities and some caterers to go further and faster, which is fantastic, but the minimum needs to be brought up so that the really keen ones can go even further and even faster. Yes, I think there is potential, because people are quite rightly angry. This is our money-our taxes-and it is being spent on this stuff and it should be right.

Q197 Chair: Can I just come in on that? What do you say to those councils, when they have looked at the standards and they have looked to see whether or not in their own schools, through the catering, they could perhaps meet those standards, but to do so would entail an extra cost, which is just not available in the current climate?

Jeanette Longfield: It is a horrible decision to have to make, and I can’t say to a local authority, "Oh yes, shut the library, spend it on school food." That is not a decision that any council should have to make. There are savings that could be made. You can do things like change recipes and build on the examples that Zac has already mentioned, where you can cut down on one thing to spend more money on another, but it does require extraordinary effort and imagination. It can be done with less money; it is just harder.

Q198 Zac Goldsmith: My last question is topical, given the news over the last couple of days. If the standards have been so badly watered down, do you believe that is the consequence of lobbying? If so, who do you think has been lobbying the Government to reduce the standards to such an appalling extent?

Jeanette Longfield: I think it has been the result of lobbying and my guess, although I do not know it for a fact, is that it would be some of the companies that supply the low-quality stuff to public sector caterers, who do not want to improve their standards. Some of the big caterers are very good and they do want to improve their standards, and that’s great, but they do not all, and they would have been lobbying, I am quite sure, to say, "Look, this is a bit of a pain for us, can we not have to bother?"

Chair: I think we must leave it there, but thank you so much. I am sorry that the time has run out and we did not have enough time for each of you, but thank you very much indeed. If you do have more that you want to give us on particularly the issues of deprivation, we would be very pleased to hear it. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Clare Devereux, Director, Food Matters, and Vic Borrill, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, gave evidence.

Q199 Chair: If I can start the second lot of proceedings and apologise to you for the late start. It is difficult when you have a very far-ranging inquiry to fit in all the witnesses and all the people who want to do interviews, so apologies for the late start. I think you have sat in and heard some of the previous session. I would like to ask each of you to introduce yourselves briefly, and your perspective, and then we will get straight into the issue of local food networks with Caroline Lucas.

Clare Devereux: My name is Clare Devereux. I work for Food Matters. We are an organisation that supports organisations, communities and individuals to create more sustainable food systems. We work nationally, but we are based in Brighton and Hove, and I think, for relevance to the conversation today, the point I would like to make, and I hope we will be able to talk about this in more detail, is that since we started about eight or nine years ago, we wanted to look at how a local sustainable food system in our own city, our own community of Brighton and Hove, would look. Eight or nine years ago, it was a fairly barren territory; food was not on the agenda the way it is now. Some of the issues that have already been talked about-the tools that are needed, what local authorities can do-is the work that we set about addressing, and to do that we wanted to create a strategic structure that could hopefully deliver a sustainable food system. We established a food partnership, developed a food strategy and created an architecture that now has given us a really good foundation to do some, hopefully, fairly innovative and pioneering work around creating sustainable food systems. I am going to hand over to Vic to drill down a little bit.

Vic Borrill: I am Vic Borrill and, as Clare said, I work for the food partnership. I have been the director there since 2008. We are a combined organisation because we deliver services, so we are very much in the front line. We deliver weight management services, cookery advice and a project that is about growing food. We also support about 100 community food projects across the city. But our other role is to lobby and try and keep food issues on the agenda locally, so a lot of the work-I am trying to get our local authority to think about food in different ways and to look at food in its broadest context, so education, economic, social. So I feel like I am coming here right at the very end and the edge of some of this food policy work, because we have spent an awful lot of time talking face to face with residents about what their issues are too.

Chair: I assure you that there are at least two Members of Parliament local to you who care very much about the work that you do. I am going to hand over first to Caroline Lucas.

Q200 Caroline Lucas: Thanks very much, and it is great that you are here. You have already summarised a little bit about what you do in terms of improving people’s access to sustainable and healthy food in Brighton and Hove, but I wonder if you could say a little bit more about it, and in particular, what real evidence is there that it is bringing real benefits to people? How can they be quantified?

Clare Devereux: That is a tricky one to answer, because one of the points that we want to make is that that work has not been done-to quantify the value of the work that we have been doing for three or four years or longer. It is quite hard for us to evaluate that, because we do not have the resources and capacity. We can see benefits, we have projects that are being evaluated-say, by the university-for funding purposes, but really to take that information and understand the difference we are making for sustainable food systems, it is hard to see. I would say myself that in terms of a sustainable food system we are making marginal encroachment really. But what we would like to see is the evidence, and we need someone to do that evidence for us, because we are not capable, we do not have capacity or resources, to do the necessary evidence gathering. We think that is something that should be being done nationally that then can help us strategically focus the work that we need to do.

Vic Borrill: Yes. A practical thing that came up from earlier is, I guess, the benefit of teaching somebody to cook-and we reckon that our fiveweek course, which teaches people who truly do not have cooking skills, can be delivered for about £90 a person. Our weight management interventions perhaps come in at about £400 a person; I don’t know what heart disease costs, or diabetes, but I think the research on looking at the benefit of investing yourself way back in the start of these systems around food is not really there and it would be really helpful for us because it would help us attract funding. It would help us attract public health funding, it would help us attract external funding. But also it would help us to be able to compare where we are spending our money locally with where other people are doing it. So I think some quite practical stuff on that would be useful.

Q201 Caroline Lucas: I wanted to ask as well, how transferable is the model that you have developed in Brighton and Hove to other local authorities? Is there something specific about our wonderful city?

Clare Devereux: It is something that we are engaging in, and we do get approached by other cities, other towns, who are seeing the work that we are doing and the model that we have created, to understand how it could be transferable. I think it is fair to say that there is no one size that fits all, that every city, town and community does have particular issues and problems. But we feel that we have been doing the work long enough to identify key components of the model that actually are transferable. Just having that strategic framework that unites different sectors in the food system, whether it is statutory agencies, community voluntary sector, businesses-a mechanism that brings those sectors together, because food in some way or other will play a role in all those sectors-bringing them together is of course a transferable model. The partnership working model is obviously a model that you find in other issues, whether it is transport or housing, across towns and cities, and it is an accepted form of partnership working. So to us it is a completely transferable model, but it has to be developed individually by each city and town so that it is appropriate to the needs and situation of those communities.

Vic Borrill: The only thing I would add is a side issue. I think one of the reasons it works well for places perhaps like Brighton or Plymouth or Bristol is that you have reasonably compact cities. London has done fantastic food work; it had to have a slightly different model. Manchester has a slightly different model to other cities. The other thing I would say is that the advantage of food partnerships is that you can do some of that clever stuff with budgets whereby you can achieve a lot more with your money, because you are putting some health money together with some money around food waste and enabling work to happen across different food issues. So that is something I think we would be really happy to see replicated in other places.

Clare Devereux: And it also enables more money to be drawn in, because in our case the food partnership stands slightly independent of the local authority but works very closely with the local authority and the statutory agencies; we are able to draw down funds through private foundations or Government schemes, whatever it might be, that perhaps would not be accessible otherwise by the local authority alone or the primary care trust alone. So for a small investment in terms of supporting partnerships, one can generate more money coming into the city or town through that model.

Q202 Caroline Lucas: Given that that is an attractive prospect, what do you think is preventing those local authorities that are not doing this from doing it? Is it lack of awareness of what might be possible, or is there something more structural that is getting in the way?

Clare Devereux: For the sake of repeating what went before, we have done a little bit of research in this for a funding application; we needed to ascertain what it was that was stopping, and what kind of level of activity around strategic work, food work, partnership strategies was happening in other local authorities. So we have spoken to about 20 or 30 local authorities. And the point about inspirational people and people who get it and who work on these issues that was made earlier; definitely it is a reason why it happens in some places and it does not-perhaps you should say that it is completely patchy across the country, and it should not really be like that. I think the other obstacle is that, historically, particular areas come at food from a particular angle. So if you are a rural town or an agricultural area, you are coming specifically from a production driver and that is what subsumes the work; perhaps they were a bit closer to bringing in all the other elements that we try to do-the integrated three pillars of sustainability, the economy, the health, and so on. So you will get pockets of good practice in particular areas, but not that strategic approach across the country. It is a bit of a top-down direction from Government. It may come up later, but the idea of having a national food strategy, a strategic approach to food nationally, Food 2030-that was started in the previous Government. Having that kind of message coming down is something that will help address the reasons why other local authorities are not taking that strategic approach.

Q203 Simon Kirby: Welcome. It is a great pleasure to see you here today. Can I come back to the evidence again? You mentioned it in your written submission, but you have also mentioned it today. Can you be specific about the areas of research and development that are particularly lacking, and if you were to suggest to the Government specifically what needs to be done, could you do so?

Vic Borrill: Some quite practical ones, if you are looking particularly at sustainable diets and consumer behaviour around sustainable diets. Where will the biggest differences be made if you are looking at helping people to eat diets that are more-either greenhouse gases or carbon or whatever-friendly, and it is where the biggest impact will happen, understanding what is stopping those behaviours at the moment, and I know some research is beginning to be done on behaviours around that. I am going to give you an example of where it has worked really well, which is the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. That is backed by some brilliant research, both on what people do and on what you can do locally in order to help people change habits. We deliver that in Brighton and Hove. We deliver it by going out to the supermarkets and talking to people. But it is all based on what the further-up-the-chain research did. And then we can talk to other towns about what they are doing. So for me, sustainable diets is the one that springs to mind.

Clare Devereux: The other thing that again was discussed earlier, if you are talking specifically about local sustainable food, and Brighton and Hove, as you probably know, has 11,000 acres of farmland around its borders, so there is a capacity to produce a certain amount more food locally than we are. It is being able to quantify that, to make the case for the economic value of-we talk about local food and we talk about economic value and how good it is, but I do not think the figures are there for us to draw on. We have been discussing our economic strategies coming up for renewal in Brighton and Hove, and that is an example of if we had some hard figures that could make the case for the value of local food, literally in our vicinity, but also the jobs that are created. We have done a little bit of research to try and gather that information from other areas and it just does not exist in a way that is useful to us.

Q204 Simon Kirby: I agree almost entirely with you, and what is needed is hard figures, and you mentioned that the take-up is patchy up and down the country. But would you agree that it is difficult perhaps to have a coherent national food strategy, or some top-down direction, without that research, without those facts, because I think Brighton and Hove in many ways punches well above its weight, and I think there is a good job going on as we speak, but it is a matter of how the Government can roll out that good work elsewhere, and I come back to the evidence again-is it possible to provide incentives without the evidence?

Clare Devereux: Yes. To do the right thing, sometimes you do not need evidence that it is the right thing to do. We can all draw on what we know is right and what is working. But I think the reason it is patchy across the country is because there are people who are not convinced, who do not know it is the right thing. Where people do know it is the right thing, where there are individuals who do it, it is happening, and where it isn’t, evidence is needed. It has been started in patches, and DEFRA did do, about six or seven years ago, research into the value of the local food sector, but that was seven or eight years ago. We are in a completely different economic situation now. I do think that kind of underpinning evidence does need to be undertaken nationally.

Q205Chair: How do you think we should actually get that evidence? Who do you think it should be?

Clare Devereux: Who should do it? Well, I do think it should be a responsibility of national Government, of DEFRA, the Department of Health, in association with research institutions within the academic sectors. There is a lot of good work being done in academia and linking that back to national policy and then back down to communities like ours.

Q206Peter Aldous: How can local authorities’ social planning, town planning, be used to deliver more sustainable food systems at a local level?

Clare Devereux: Well, we have done that; we started that process in Brighton. Our core strategy, which is-I suppose I should say that the core strategy that we have developed over the last couple of years has now just been withdrawn for various reasons-but sticking with the core strategy that has been developed over the last couple of years, we, the Food Partnership, lobbied very hard, and we were able to do that because we had that infrastructure to do it, for the core strategy to include reference to sustainable food production on the peri-urban fringe of the city where there is potential for it. So that is the first thing, as a policy direction if you like, to get it in the core strategy. Vic, you have worked on that. Do you want to say anything?

Vic Borrill: The only thing I would say is that that was done back in 2008, so some of these things take quite a long time.

Clare Devereux: That was the first point: having that direction of travel in our core strategy has enabled us to go a little bit further. We produced planning advice, which you might be aware of, to encourage new developments to include potentially food growing spaces, whether it is allotments or green walls. The planning department have a sustainability check list that requires developers to tick what they are doing in sustainability terms-a big leap, but it does include food growing, planting nut trees and little things that developers can do within the planning system now. Just on that point, that was introduced at the beginning of the summer. Research into all the applications that have come through so far in that, as a result of using the sustainability check list, 50% of applications have now included food-growing opportunities within their new development. So that is working. The planning advisory notice has only just come out, so we do not know yet how that is going to work, but developers are already coming forward with plans to include food growing. We have to work very closely, and again, it is as a result of the partnership that we have created over the years between ourselves and the local authority and the planning department that we have been able to work closely with them to achieve some of these. The other thing I would say is that there is a sustainability officer within the planning team who has a food remit, which I think is quite unique, so they are embedding food within their planning thinking, if you like.

Q207Peter Aldous: That is very kind. Now, of course, the planning system is undergoing quite a lot of change at the moment. Do you regard this as an opportunity to do more, or a threat to what you are doing? Or is it a bit of both?

Vic Borrill: A bit of both. Again, one of the things we have here is that we do not really know what it is going to look like when it comes to it-this is why I say, by the time you have trickled all the way to somebody who is working in a neighbourhood, it does not yet make a lot of sense. I think there are opportunities through the idea of being able to do some neighbourhood plans and what your neighbourhood wants to see happen. However, it is important that that is supported by local authorities because it is that idea of, "Well actually, I really care about that park and I really care about the variety of shops and I do not mind if you are building some houses." My experience on the ground is that it is not there yet, so there is possibly an opportunity there. I think the other big thing is the opportunity to access land for community groups and whether or not the through planning with the right-to-buy take on assets such as buildings will include land or not. It isn’t very clear to me and I do not know if there is any development on that because that might also provide opportunities for the communities come together to do things locally.

Clare Devereux: I think I would add to that. I would like to think, and I hope it is going to be an opportunity, but I think for us, we will be able to turn it into an opportunity perhaps because of the foundation we have already in this area and the work we have already done. My concern is for other areas where perhaps that-

Peter Aldous: You have got an infrastructure already, which means you may be able to take advantage. Other places that have not could be less-

Clare Devereux: Yes, possibly, yes.

Q208Martin Caton: I heard what you said about needing more research on consumer behaviour, but you are clearly in the front line, if you like, in helping people change their behaviour when it comes to healthier and more environmentally friendly foods, so can you share with us your experience and say what needs to be done? Also, your thoughts about what Government, at different levels, could contribute to ensuring this happens?

Vic Borrill: One of the biggest barriers we find, and this can be on both health, so it can be people who are trying to reduce their weight, or trying to reduce their risk of heart disease, or it can be on confidence-people trying to leave to move into independent living if they have got learning difficulties, it is people who cannot cook. It is very, very hard to make the changes that you might need to make to your diet, be that being able to cook, make your food go further or love your leftovers, or any of those other magic messages that come out there, if you do not know how to cook. I think there is a real imperative to ensure that children in schools have a real experiential experience of food, they learn about cooking and growing, but we have to do something about the massive amount of adults who actually cannot cook at the moment. I think that that, to me, is the plea. I do not think we should underestimate quite how many people for whom that is a real issue.

Q209Martin Caton: At the moment cooking tends to be coming along with design and technology and, this is just what I have heard, a lot of the design and technology teachers actually regard cooking as the less important-they want to get on the computers, they want to-some of the children feel the same, so do we have to harden up the cooking bit of the design and technology?

Clare Devereux: Yes. I think we need to harden it up, but I also think you have got such an opportunity with cooking and food work to hook on so many other curriculum activities as well because if you are learning to cook you are also practicing numeracy, literacy, various other skills and I think, actually, just picking up the value that cookery can bring across the curriculum is an important thing.

Q210Chair: Where does cooking fit in terms of the Government’s advice in terms of the curriculum?

Clare Devereux: Well I am not an expert on the curriculum. I actually do not know the answer to that.

Vic Borrill: There has been an increase in the number of hours and, again, I am not an education person that you get at primary school level, but that still is not enough to teach you to cook. At secondary level it comes in again, and it is often designing a pizza box; those are the sorts of lesson that you get as opposed to even learning to make your own pizza. Again, there is good practice in a lot of places. Some schools, Moulsecoomb Primary I am going use as an example-two people in the room will be aware of it-is a primary school in a really deprived area of Brighton. They have the most amazing approach towards food in the school, so every single child leaves there feeling confident about making food choices and having tried cooking and having tried growing and that is an amazing skill to go to secondary school with.

Clare Devereux: At the moment it is costing money to do that; it is costing funding to do it rather it being a core part of the school day.

Q211Martin Caton: Do we need Government spending? Obviously the carrots are very good, especially if you are on a healthy diet, but we need sticks as well. Should there be financial incentives or disincentives? Should there even be choice editing?

Vic Borrill: At what level?

Martin Caton: The Government has set it and we are doing polls. For instance, you heard in the previous evidence-the fat tax that has been introduced, things that happen in the United States. That would be a financial disincentive and that would obviously be produced by Government.

Clare Devereux: From where we sit, working locally on these issues, there is a lot of hard effort, a lot of funding, a lot of money going into it and I think if that is not matched by those top-down incentives, carrots, fat taxes-we are not experts in what those should be, but I think we need to be looking more at what from that range of tools is appropriate. The work that we are doing locally has to be matched by action by Government, otherwise I am worried-particularly as we move forward into more straitened times financially and our funding and our capacity to do work are perhaps compromised-that we are going to take steps backwards from some of the gains that we have made over the last years and that will be true for other areas for us.

Q212Martin Caton: In your work, effectively you are presumably working with individuals, are you actually able to impact at the community level? Are you actually seeing community-wide change in behaviour?

Vic Borrill: Some of our projects are delivered individually, but a lot of what we try to do is work within the community that already exists there, so one of the programmes we run, and I am rather creating a bit of a message here, is actually around training people within different organisations to become community cookery leaders. We have been doing work with staff who work in learning disability centres or who work with people who are leaving care to train them to teach people to cook so that the skills are being passed on. On the community food growing project, several of them are really established and we can support them to be better at what they do by helping them with full grant schemes. We give out a small grant of £1,000 that can actually mean that people can pay for their insurance and some of their volunteer expenses in order to last for a year, so those are lasting projects that are within the communities of a city, and they very much stay there.

Q213Martin Caton: Thank you. Do you think the Government’s recently announced calorie reduction challenge is going to take us forward as far as sustainable food goes?

Vic Borrill: The same day that you were told that the guidance amount has gone up and that we were all lying so we had to eat less? Calories are actually a really difficult message because the work we do on calories-particularly with people who are above their ideal weight-is not very helpful. Calories are not very helpful, because you could have your 2,075, or whatever it is women are now allowed, and actually have all those on the sort of foods that are just made of sugar. We do not usually advocate teaching very much about calories; we teach about a balance of health. However, they are useful when you come to going around and making choices in a supermarket, if they are comparable. So we come back to the idea of traffic lights on packaging that makes sense of the products. Again, one of the problems we have when we try to teach people-they understand about healthy and unhealthy and so on-is that to make it a bit easier and possible to make those choices, to give them tools that actually make some sense, is much more helpful than saying, "If you are in this supermarket you are looking for this diagram, and if you are looking at that product you are looking for that one, and if you are in a big retailer you might get this and if you are in a small one, by the way they will not have it so you need to do this." There are so many different messages to try to get across. I think any national initiative to talk to people about calories and about what they eat has to be very intelligently done. It goes back to your marketing: don’t just say we eat too many calories, because people will probably go, "Yeah, I know."

Q214Zac Goldsmith: A lot of issues that I wanted to raise have been already been addressed so I am going to pick and choose. One of them relates to the food strategy. The current Government has said that it broadly agrees with the 2030 strategy left by the previous Government, but they are not currently planning to replace it. I think you have already said that we ought to replace it. If it is replaced, what with? Where would the emphasis be in your view? What would be different about it?

Clare Devereux: Well, I think it was a very good start.

Chair: Sorry, what was a very good start?

Clare Devereux: The strategy that was written, the 2030. It had that integrated, comprehensive approach and it brought the different components of the food supply chain and the issues together. So, in the sense that these things do incrementally grow and develop, that needs to be built on for starters. Now, from our perspective, what we would like to see in that, however, is more mechanisms that enable us and the local communities to deliver on that. It was quite top-down and focusing on industry, which is brilliant, but widen it-we would say this, wouldn’t we. For example, support and advocate mechanisms locally, such as food partnerships, and the development of local strategies would support the work that we do and bring more consistency, as we were discussing before, around the country because we are only going to tackle sustainable food from the top-down and bottom-up and there has to be equal weight given to those actions.

Q215Zac Goldsmith: I have one last question. We have all talked a little about varying points in early years education, but if we are going to shape our food consumption patterns and our behaviour, it seems to me that early years education is key. We talked a bit about improving the standard of food through procurement contracts and so on, but what are the tools that we can use? What are the tools Government can use to ensure that some of the best-case examples where schools really teach food literacy-what are the best mechanisms the Government has to ensure that those examples become law? What is it, apart from the procurement contracts, what is it? Is it the national curriculum or is it something more local?

Vic Borrill: I think a bit of both, again. I think that one of the things we tend to find with people who do food work in schools is that often there is one teacher or one teaching assistant or one parent who starts it. If we can then meet that individual teacher, we talk about getting Heads on board, and I am again going back-I don’t know much about education-how you can get Heads to realise that it helps them meet all their other education targets and what else it helps them to achieve, I think is very important. The national curriculum obviously is a bit of a stick that can go with it. I also think, just to go back one stage earlier to the really early years, that we have been doing quite a lot of work lately with nurseries as the place at which that starts, and introducing some minimum standards around food that gets served in nurseries as well would be quite an important step that could happen nationally, building on the practice that is happening locally.

Clare Devereux: It would be boring not to come back to produce evidence of our research, the connection between a good diet, particularly in early years with breakfast clubs and so forth, make the link between educational attainment-we hear about that and the Food for Life programmes have worked in lots of schools, and there is evidence that good food very early on in life is very important, whether it is through the school meals service or through education, and obviously complimented by activities at home, which is always very important; it can’t stop at the school gates. We have to work to ensure that it is in the home as well, but evidence of the link between good diet, educational attainment and behaviour is an area where we could do more research and have more evidence. I think then we would be able to make a financial case for that investment and, if they really believed that the children were going to behave better and achieve more through good diet, then they would probably embrace it. Food for Life has shown that their schools do better in Ofsted inspections than non-Food for Life schools. Now, that is a very simple thing; I think if you shared it amongst the head teachers you would start to get more buying into it.

Q216Simon Kirby: Just a very brief comment. You mentioned Moulsecoomb Primary School; it is a great school and I was struck by the fact of how it was important for the kids to understand where the food they ate came from and the ability to make jam out of cherries that grow in the school grounds. I thought that was important, but also in deprived areas across the city, up and down the country, just understanding where food comes from, because we all know about the different vegetables and fruit, but often young children have no concept at all where our bread or the food they eat comes from or where it is supplied from. Anything we can do to help educate them has to be a good thing, has it not?

Vic Borrill: Yes.

Clare Devereux: I think we have an opportunity in Brighton and Hove, and quite a few other cities do too, because we do have fields-as long as the green belt survives. We have those farms around our periphery that, if there was more small-scale farming in those, edging onto the kind of communities you are talking about, the Moulsecoombs and the Whitehawks in Brighton, there would be a much more visible presence of food and food production as a part of these children’s everyday lives. That is one of our aspirations-that we do have more small-scale mixed farming around the edge of the city so that we can make those connections.

Q217Chair: I think that is a very positive note on which to end. There is just one issue that has not come up at all-your evidence from the previous one. I know we are going to run out of time, but can I just ask you about what you were saying about the planning guidance that you had at Brighton and Hove, whether or not that designated person who has a remit for sustainability and food, whether or not that linked to a policy on takeaways as unhealthy food?

Vic Borrill: It tried. Basically what happened was that there was a planning application process that went through about unhealthy foods around the school gates, and what happened was that there was some research done that basically involved following secondary school children around at lunchtime, which was quite interesting, and it showed that one of the biggest problems was that they were going into shops-for example, Tesco and local shops-to buy unhealthy junk as well as the takeaways, so there was a bit of a balance going on. We are trying to do some sort of responsibility work locally with Tesco on what they serve, what food goes into the school, and also with some of the retailers about what times they are open. It will be interesting to see because responsibility sounds like it should be right up the street on this, but we know we have probably got quite a battle.

Chair: Thank you both very much indeed for coming along. We appreciate your time.

[1] Note by witness: Witness is referring to two bottles of House of Commons water

Prepared 10th May 2012