British Growers was invited to the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork Summit held at Downing Street in mid-May. The guest list, which amounted to around 70, included a varied selection of guests from Kaleb and Cheerful Charlie from Clarkson’s Farm through to various major retailer bosses. After being entertained in the No 10 Garden with a BBQ Brunch, they were led up several flights of stairs to a large room where they were addressed by the Prime Minister.
It's easy to be cynical about the motives for these events, but in this case, the Defra Ministerial team must have worked hard on the No 10 machine to persuade the Prime Minister to devote some of his time to this initiative. The PM spoke for about 10 minutes and was keen to stress his commitment to growing the food and farming industry. He recognized these were challenging times and that the country needed to avoid a repeat of the empty shelves scenario experienced earlier in the year. He is keen to support the veg and fruit sectors and, to this end, is launching a review of supply chain fairness for the horticulture industry. He also announced that the independence of the GCA would remain and would not be merged with the Competition and Mergers Authority.
In a break with the convention, he announced the Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme would run through 2024 with the current numbers (we have got used to getting the announcement in the week before Christmas). And he finished his speech by announcing plans to re-introduce a new, more inclusive Producer Organisation Scheme for 2026.
The second part of the summit involved four breakout sessions looking at trade, resilience, skills, productivity, and sustainability, which I co-chaired with Minister Mark Spencer. What was apparent from this event was that the intervention of the Prime Minister had given Defra new impetus to make things happen. I sense Defra may have been struggling to make its voice heard during the recent months of political turmoil. But now the PM has given his backing to a list of specific projects, they can hopefully look forward to some tangible progress. They have subsequently written to Mark Spencer, offering their services to help progress these initiatives, and we are in touch with Defra about shaping the review of supply chain fairness.