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A major high-tech procurement platform being developed by the Government’s Crown Commercial Service is to be trialled in the South West and could help ensure that ingredients in many thousands of meals a day served in places like school kitchens across the region are sourced from local small businesses.
A Community Interest Company (CIC) called the South West Food Hub has been formed to help prepare the region for the pilot which will be launched early next year. The initiative will make it easier for chefs and catering and procurement managers in places like schools, colleges, hospitals and prisons, military bases to purchase fresh supplies that have not been flown halfway around the world, but which have been sourced across counties like Cornwall or Devon, Somerset or Dorset.
Covid-19 has highlighted fractures in the food supply chain and so the launch of the hub is being regarded as timely – it is also being seen as part of the Government’s call to “build back better”.
“It will allow the region’s food network to buy local and establish sustainable, shorter supply chains across the South West’s food sector, focusing primarily on public procurement,” said Ellen Bright, Project Coordinator for the South West Food Hub.
The launch comes in the wake of a specially commissioned report which found that more than a third of South West food and drink businesses have experienced a 70 per cent drop in revenue caused by the lockdown.
The hub initiative is supported by local organisations including the Heart of the South West LEP, the University of Exeter, Exeter City Futures, POM Support and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
“The pilot, a new dynamic online purchasing platform, will open up public sector food procurement to local producers and suppliers,” explained Greg Parsons, co-founder of the South West Food Hub.
“The hub will work with anchor institutions such as schools and hospitals to mobilise the pilot, whilst supporting food and drink SMEs to meet entry criteria and prepare to supply through the new platform,” added Mr Parsons, who has experience in large scale procurement though his company POM Support – he also helped source supplies for the massive workforce at the Hinkley Point C construction site.
Commenting on the initiative, Alex Stevens, Regional Policy Manager at the NFU said: “This is a region united by food – and a strong food and drink sector will be crucial to getting the economy back on track when life returns to normality. This initiative seeks to link the region’s food producers and farmers with outlets for their fantastic produce.
“NFU South West is excited to work alongside these fantastic local companies and support the South West Food Hub.”
He echoed the fact that Covid-19 has highlighted problems within the food supply chain, adding that the South West Food Hub will call upon the “collective expertise, experience and connections” of those involved to support the regional food community during the difficult times arising from the pandemic.
Devon cheesemaker Mary Quicke commented: “It’s lovely to see this local initiative connecting the people who want great local food with all those people and small businesses who can accommodate supplying this food.
“Together, we can keep our gorgeous local food ecosystem in good shape.”
The need for the scheme has been backed by a recent survey conducted by the South West Food Hub in collaboration with one of the region’s leading accountancy companies, PKF Francis Clark, and the legal firm, Stephens Scown LLP, who reached out to local food and drink businesses in a bid to understand how they have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis…
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