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NPA welcomes MPs' calls for overhaul of Government public procurement policy

21st Apr 2021 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has welcomed a report by MPs that calls on the Government to do more to support small businesses, improve animal welfare and promote sustainability in its public procurement policy.

Neil ParishIn a new report, Public Sector Procurement of Food, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by Devon MP Neil Parish (pictured), calls on the Government to ‘pull its Buying Standards for Food (GBSF) into the new decade, address outdated standards on nutrition and animal welfare, and close loopholes in the existing rules’.

This includes making certain guidance for public sector buying policies mandatory and removing an exemption to the Government’s current buying standards, which allows buyers to deviate from UK food production and animal welfare standards in the case of ‘significant increase in costs’.

“The existence of this exemption, the use of which cannot be quantified due to the lack of monitoring, may disincentivise food suppliers from investing in food produced to high standards,” the report says.

The NPA submitted evidence to EFRA’s inquiry, calling for the Government to recognise the UK pig sector's high standards of production in its public procurement policy. 

The NPA document, compiled by senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale, stated: "UK Government should not be able to procure any product from another country using methods that are illegal in the UK."

Citing the 1999 UK sow stall ban that saw floods of cheaper imports produced in sow stall systems coming into the country, undercutting domestic producers and contributing to a halving of the sow herd, the document added: 

"The failure to uphold this principle in the past has resulted in UK companies involved in the pork supply chain being severely disadvantaged by public procurement policy as imports produced to far lower standards have been allowed to be procured simply because they are cheaper.

"This is not acceptable, and we expect Government to fully address this within the new policy."

NPA response

Responding to EFRA’s recommendations, Rebecca said: “This is a very helpful report that reinforces the key points we made in our response to the inquiry.

“We believe the Government should support British pig producers and our high quality pork produced to leading standards with its purchasing policies. And as the EFRA report clearly states, the Government must close the loophole that allows public money to be spent on imports of pork produced to standards not permitted here.

“We hope the Government implements the recommendations in full.” 

“The pig industry receives very little public support from the Government - NPA is still waiting to hear whether our COVID compensation request will be accepted. But the least they can do is bolster demand and help support the sector via their own procurement standards.”

Key recommendations

The report’s other key recommendations include:

  • That Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF) should be made mandatory across the public sector in England, including in schools and local government, who are currently merely ‘encouraged’ to comply.
  • GBSF is updated to ensure that public bodies are encouraged to source seasonal produce, therefore supporting British producers. The report expresses ‘disappointment’ that the Government has not used the GBSF as a mechanism to promote ‘buying British’ within the public sector, as is the norm within public bodies in countries such as France.
  • The introduction of Dynamic Purchasing Systems, which proved, during a pilot run by Bath and North East Somerset Council, to be cost-effective for public bodies whilst supporting small enterprises, should be prioritised. Government pilots demonstrated food costs did not increase when buying from local SMEs.
  • The Government must update the GBSF, taking into account the latest consumer preferences and industry practise on nutrition and climate change. The report notes that standards currently fall short of the industry norm in areas such as animal welfare, and do not align with the Government’s target for net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Inspection bodies, such as the Care Quality Commission, should monitor compliance with Government Buying Standards for Food (GBSF) in their sectors.

Support high standards

Mr Parish said: “The Government has a real opportunity to support high standards, small businesses and British farmers through its food procurement system.

“Our prisons, schools and hospitals spend billions each year on food, yet government buying standards are not up to date and remain poorly enforced.

“Our report found that ‘buying British’ does not have to be more expensive—and at the same time we can support local, seasonally produced food.

“Government buying standards should therefore be urgently updated and made mandatory across the public sector.

“If we fail to act, ministers are in danger of paying mere lip-service to vital policies and falling short of their manifesto promises ‘to encourage the public sector to Buy British, support our farmers and reduce environmental costs’ at the same time.”