As the summer holidays end, Whitehall speculates about ministerial shuffles. Will this affect food?
Mrs Spelman at Defra will already be remembered as the secretary of state who offered to cut her already small department by 30% - no attempt from her to defend its interests or suggest that it is, if anything, too small for the food security tasks ahead.
No wonder Chris Mahoney of commodity traders Glencore was rubbing his hands in glee last week. They’ve been left the field to themselves.
Mr Lansley at the Department of Health? Well, he came in with an agenda - and never deviated from it. He’s a pin-up boy for half of Britain’s food magnates. Others think he’s reversed steps towards better integration of diet, food and health strategy.
Wisely, when taking office, the Prime Minister let it be known he wanted to keep ministers in place long enough for them to be effective. I agree with this. It is sometimes said that it takes ministers a year to find out what the job is, another to get a grip, and only in their third year can they really begin to affect things.
” There’s an art to cutting through the complexity to see the big picture”
I’ve lost count of the number of top people I’ve dealt with in Whitehall. The situation’s further complicated by devolved administrations and off-shore agencies. That’s democracy. So take the coalition’s rhetoric about ‘bonfire of the agencies’ with a pinch of salt. While some get cut, others are quietly created.
Thirty years ago, food matters were just for Agriculture - the old MAFF, now Defra. As evidence changed, it’s rightly now also Health. Plus Children and Schools. Add Transport, Local Government, Europe . the list goes on. Small wonder that food policy suffers from institutional ‘policy cacophony’.
It’s easy to dismiss this as institutionalized chaos. It’s not. Modern governance is just complex. There’s an art to cutting through the complexity to see the big picture - and in rallying social forces inside and outside government to the strategy.
Whichever ministers are in charge, the task is clear. Grow more food, more sustainably. Contain speculation. Change the population’s eating habits. Skill them. Build exercise into daily life. Call it sustainable food security. Start now.