Why form an All-Party Parliamentary Group focused on the food and drink manufacturing industry sector?
The simple answer is that food has never been higher on the political agenda and many of us in Westminster believe it is vital the UK’s largest manufacturing sector is supported in the important policy debates now taking place in parliament and beyond.
That’s a key aim of the group of which I am proud to be chairman. Currently we have more than 40 parliamentarians in our membership and we expect to build further in the coming months as colleagues see that issues relating to food production and manufacturing will have greater profile and interest ahead of the next election than they perhaps did ahead of previous ones.
The group’s immediate agenda will reflect the current social, environmental and economic issues impacting the food manufacturing sector, looking at topics ranging from the economic importance of the industry; to environmental concerns and sustainability; to relationships across the food chain and the ways in which producers and manufacturers work to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply while also providing consumers with choice, value and quality.
It’s not just at policy level, however. Food manufacturing plays an essential role in most constituencies in terms of jobs, directly employing 470,000 people nationally and a further 1.2 million people on an ancillary basis. Food production helps to stabilise regional and local economies both through large-scale employment and because demand for established food products tends to be reliable.
The group will look to ensure that parliamentarians understand how the industry works, how current policy impacts it, and how positions and statements in parliament can help to ensure it is best represented in debate and discussions.
There is much said about food manufacturing in parliament and too often statements are misleading and little is said to correct or counter them. The group will play a part in ensuring parliamentary debate is more informed and accurate when it discusses key issues relating to the industry.
Our inaugural session last month, which brought together parliamentarians and industry experts for a timely discussion aimed at developing greater insight into the issue of rising food prices, is a good example of what you can expect from the group.
A packed committee room in the House of Commons saw a lively debate, while five speakers from across the food chain debunked a few myths and explained what was really happening on the ground. This type of discussion offers a taste of what is to come and how the group can add genuine value. However, don’t think the group’s support of the industry is unconditional. I believe it is vital, if we are to become a point of reference and advice for colleagues in parliament, that our group acts as a critical friend to the UK food and drink manufacturing sector. So we will also be raising issues where we believe companies should be doing more than they are currently.
In political terms, food has never been so exciting. I look forward to bringing this important industry and its issues to life in both Houses in the coming months.
Bill Wiggin MP is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Food and Drink Manufacturing Industry Group.