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Public procurement of food: Could the UK do better?

18 June 2020

Every year the public sector spends over £2 billion providing meals in schools, hospitals, prisons, and many other public bodies. But how is this food sourced, and does it meet the right standards regarding health, the environment and supporting local communities?

Procurement after Brexit

Today the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee launches an inquiry into the Public Procurement of Food. The UK's exit from the EU means the UK can modify its procurement rules, which could lead to changes in the way that social and environmental objectives, like supporting local small business, are prioritised.

Defra's 2014 publication, A Plan for Public Procurement, outlined new standards and guidelines for food procurement by public bodies, focusing on economic competitiveness, nutrition, and the production process. The report established a revised Government Buying Standard (GBS) and a ‘balanced scorecard' for public procurement as part of a toolkit for food procurers of public bodies. Recently, there have been calls for the National Food Strategy commissioned by Defra to address food procurement.

Scope of inquiry

The Committee's new inquiry will investigate whether better public procurement can support sustainable production, healthy eating and support for British businesses while ensuring value for money in public spending.

The Committee is seeking written evidence on the following questions, with an initial deadline of Thursday 27 August:

  • How effective have current food procurement rules been at achieving environmental outcomes, encouraging healthy eating and supporting local suppliers, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

  • What impact have Defra's 2014 Plan for Public Procurement and the Government Buying Standard (GBS) had, and how could they be improved?

  • How much flexibility will the UK have to change food procurement rules outside the EU?

  • What should the Government's priorities for future food procurement be?
    • How should the Government support these priorities in the negotiation of new trade deals?

  • To what extent should the public sector be encouraged to “buy British”?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach?

Chair's comments

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said:

“Every week, hundreds of thousands of meals are eaten in schools, hospitals and prisons and many people, including some of the most vulnerable members of society, rely on publicly procured food. Leaving the EU lets us look again at how these meals are procured, so it needs to be done in a way that benefits local communities, the environment and the health of consumers, as well as the public purse." 

Further information

Image: Unsplash