DEFRA Plan For Public Procurement: Food And Catering Services

Central Government will commit to buying locally-sourced food through a new food and drink buying standard, which will aim to cut waste, according to newly-appointed Environment Secretary Liz Truss. In a joint statement with Truss, Prime Minister David Cameron said that from 2017, all of central Government will commit to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food, so that ‘all food that can be bought locally will be bought locally’.

This will be done through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard called ‘The Plan for Public Procurement’. According to Defra, it will benefit thousands of British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and the British public.

So as the Government unveils food buying standard to help the public sector cut waste, Andy Jones, National Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) welcomed the British Food plan as “a significant step in the right direction.” Says Andy, “…in fact the HCA has played a key role in the document and its ‘testing’. (led by Jones).

“Many HCA Members have led the way in this area for a long time now. However to do this, they have had the support of Chief Executives and Trust Boards who see the catering service as a core and critical part of the patient’s recovery plan, as well as it being the key source of staff and visitor wellbeing. This means they have had their catering budgets correctly funded, not like the majority of Trusts who see catering as the easy option for Cost Improvement Programmes (CIPs).”

In her first policy announcement since being appointed Environment Secretary last week, Truss said, “This move will mean that food served in canteens across the public sector can be more local, seasonal and tastier.

“It will help drive growth in Britain’s first class food and drink industry and benefit the environment through reduced waste, higher take-up of meals and less unappetising food left on plates.

“This is a huge boost to British farmers and producers and for students, patients and employees who want to enjoy fantastic food.”

With a gentle reminder to the Minister, “whilst ‘canteens’ may be what Parliament still has in place, we have moved on from the 1950 – 60s era and we have ‘restaurants’ now,” says Jones.

“And we too are calling for the use of local seasonal produce, wherever possible. This is why we have stated it’s time for action now, and consequently, is why we would also like the Government to confirm that along with this change to ‘local, seasonal produce’ procurement, comes the protection of the catering budgets, as a minimum.

To do this will mean some minor changes, of which one will be contracts and specifications that are set up, and at ward level, improved communications. Jones continues, “Those Trusts using delivered meals systems need to make sure that the suppliers they use are given the right brief and contracts to ensure that they use seasonal products where they can. Some are doing so already and in fact are probably leading the way. But fruit supplies are in the hands of caterers, so there are no reasons why this can’t be delivered today.”

Jones reminds us that a hospital is part of the local community. “All HCA Members know this and work to this every day.” To further illustrate the benefits, Jones outlines the HCA’s recent proactive move – an instruction to its Members to stop naming the vegetables and fruit on the menus, which has become the norm, and go back to using words like ‘seasonal vegetables of the day’. “This will also allow the plan to be implemented quickly and give us flexibility in using products that are in season and in essence cheaper. Strawberries could be seen as the norm on menus in hospitals in summer, Worcester apples at Worcester hospital when in season, or Kent apples in Ashford Hospital, to Lincolnshire potatoes. Of course this is all subject to the costs being ‘right’.

Jones has written to the new Minister asking to meet with her urgently to discuss how the HCA “could do more, if they were allowed to LEAD more with those we serve each day, the PATIENTS.”