So, we are to get a new Food and Drink Sector Council. It’s news you’d be forgiven for having missed amidst Brexit wrangles and regal nuptials.
But last week the government seemed to make good on promises made back in January and released further details of its post-Brexit Industrial Strategy in a white paper ‘Building a Britain fit for the future’.
And our industry got a special mention.
‘The opportunities – and challenges for food and drink raised by exiting the EU are significant,’ the paper states. ‘To address this, we are committing to establishing a new partnership between government and the whole food chain, working with industry leaders from agriculture, food and drink manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and logistics.’
So far so good. And it was heartening to hear of the new Food and Drink Sector Council’s intention to ‘secure the UK’s position as a global leader in sustainable, affordable, safe and high-quality food and drink.’
Sadly, beyond a pledge to focus on food production and cutting food waste, the details are scant. Though the paper seems to promise a lot, it says very little. There’s a pledge to help lower energy bills though there’s no specific timescale set out.
The paper also includes a vow to work with the hospitality industry on ‘each of the foundations of productivity’, though again it gives no details of how.
Measures that help to reduce costs in the more immediate future would, of course, be much more effective. And we can tentatively welcome a promise to improve the fairness of the system, with £2.3bn pledged over the next five years.
But as pointed out in our post-Budget analysis, that’s a long time to wait for businesses struggling now, who presumably need more than fine intentions and something concrete in 2022.
This white paper makes some of the right noises, but it doesn’t really clear much up for businesses already trying to adapt to a post-Brexit market. At best, it’s formal recognition from the government of the vital role the food and drink sector as a whole plays in enriching UK life. It’s a seat at the table, but little more than that.
It raises more questions than it answers, not least the biggest one of all, which is that ‘given that it will take years for any benefits to trickle through, what is the government going to do to help businesses that are hurting now?’