Written evidence submitted by Demos (PRO0021)

 

The think tank Demos is submitting recent research and recommendations as evidence for the Government on public sector procurement of food. Main points include:

 

  1. How effective have current food procurement rules been at achieving environmental outcomes, encouraging healthy eating and supporting local suppliers, including SMEs?

 

1.1.            There is a lack of data collection and metrics for success of government contracts, this includes the nutritional content of catering services.[1] It is therefore hard to assess the success of the procurement rules on nutrition at a macro-level. However, a mixture of anecdotal evidence, population health data and data relating to the food market in general suggests that procurement rules have not gone far enough to ensure value for money with regards to healthy eating.[2]

 

1.2.            There is good evidence that food procurement can play a role in improving diets and health outcomes for service users - in particular for school children and hospital in-patients - as well as encourage better standards across the food and catering market.[3] The UK has some way to go to realising these benefits. According to anecdotal evidence, public sector catering contracts continue to be plagued by a race to the bottom on price. This means that caters often struggle to source food locally, in addition to providing better nutrition standards. In schools, on a practical level, menus need to be created in partnership with the school staff to ensure that the food is healthy and appealing to students; this often requires more management from both the school and caters that can be costly.

 

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

 

2.1.            The public would support the Government going further to ensure that food provided by the public sector is healthy. In a nationally representative survey of 1,000 UK adults, Demos found that the majority of people wanted stricter public procurement rules for healthy eating. We found the public to be strongly in favour of the government ensuring patients in hospitals are provided a healthy meal (71%) and nearly two thirds (65%) would support banning unhealthy foods in schools.[4]

 

2.2.            The Public Procurement and the Government Buying Standard Scorecard could be improved by making more, and stricter nutritional criteria to ensure that the baseline of food services are healthy. This should draw on the NHS’ Eatwell guide that outlines the nutritional content for a healthy diet, including recommended daily limits for things that are harmful that we tend to eat too much of, such as salt, sugar, fat and red meat, in addition to things such as fresh vegetables that we need to eat more of. To these ends, Demos recommends “the Cabinet Office should create new guidance and requirements for contracting authorities responsible for procuring food and catering services to ensure that all food provided in public sector organisations, including schools and hospitals, is compliant with the NHS Eatwell Guide. This should include making the standard public sector catering contract include it as a bare minimum requirement relating to nutrition”.[5]

 

2.3.            In addition to ensuring that standards are clearer and stricter, Demos recommends that the Government goes further to prevent providers competing on price to the extent that the nutritional quality of services goes down. To achieve this, Demos recommends the “Cabinet Office’s new guidance should include how to implement ‘should cost’ models to catering contracts for menus based on the NHS Eatwell Guide, to ensure that catering providers have the financial means to provide healthy foods to the public sector.”[6]

 

2.4.            Taken together, these reforms should firstly ensure that nutritional standards are more clearly and deeply embedded in the procurement process, and secondly ensure that short-term cost savings on public sector contracts are not made at the expense of long-term public health costs.

 

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

 

N/A

 

  1. What should the Government’s priorities for future food procurement be? (a) How should the Government support these priorities in the negotiation of new trade deals?

 

4.1.            The Government should do more to deeply embed social value into the procurement process across departments and contracting authorities. Demos recommends that the Government establish priority social value standards for departments, in order to pursue select, strategic cross-government objectives, for example related to carbon emissions and healthy eating. Departments should produce their own social value standards which would build upon these in matters relevant to their work.

 

4.2.            In addition, the Government should do more to make sure that British companies that pay their taxes are not less competitive than companies that avoid or evade paying them. Previous Demos research found that in the year of 2018-2019, 25 of the government’s 34 Strategic Suppliers (73.5%) had operations in tax havens, suggesting that strategic suppliers could be gaining a competitive advantage from reducing the amount of tax they pay.[7] To prevent this, the Government should make sure there are bare minimum requirements for public procurement contracts relating to a bidder’s exchequer contribution. For example, bidders could be expected to meet a certain Effective Tax Rate to pre-qualify for a procurement round.

 

  1. To what extent should the public sector be encouraged to “buy British"? (a) What are the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach?

 

N/A


[1] Rose Lasko-Skinner, Ben Glover, Tom Dale and Alan Lockey, Value Added, Demos, 2019. Available at https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/UK-CLOUD-04.10-2.pdf

[2] Rose Lasko-Skinner, Turning the Tables: Making healthy choices easier for consumers, Demos, 2020. Available at https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Turning-The-Tables-FINAL.pdf

[3] Rose Lasko-Skinner, Turning the Tables: Making healthy choices easier for consumers, Demos, 2020, p.25-26. Available at https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Turning-The-Tables-FINAL.pdf

[4] Rose Lasko-Skinner, Turning the Tables: Making healthy choices easier for consumers, Demos, 2020, p.26. Available at https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Turning-The-Tables-FINAL.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rose Lasko-Skinner, Ben Glover, Tom Dale and Alan Lockey, Value Added, Demos, 2019. Available at https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/UK-CLOUD-04.10-2.pdf