general election politics government

A general election is a time when many of us are more focused on the future. Whilst we don’t yet know the outcome, it will inevitably mean change for the food system.

The arrival of a new government may mean a shift in attention, from sectors such as technology and services to those that form the ‘everyday economy’ – including those within the food system.

That is because our food system is critical to the economy and to driving growth. It is the UK’s largest private sector employer, with over four million people working across the most diverse range of roles. It accounts for 7% of economic activity and is one of the country’s biggest drivers of exports.

More importantly, it is the ultimate barometer for the nation on economic sentiment. As we have seen through the recent cost of living and inflation challenges, food prices are one of the acid tests for the public’s view on the state of the economy. Therefore, if the government can manage the current economic challenges to the benefit of the food industry, then it will have a disproportionate positive impact on the economy itself, as well as a positive impact on people’s perceptions of it.

Delivering economic value is only part of the role of the food system. It is also central to some of our biggest national challenges. It has an essential role in delivering net zero, building resilience and tackling the obesity epidemic.

When I talk to industry leaders, I hear a growing commitment to working together to drive progress at pace, and a desire to play the fullest part in addressing these critical challenges across our food system. There is also a recognition that we can go further and faster working in partnership with policymakers across the political spectrum.

Recent history tells us a lot about the ingredients we need for partnership in the future. Both government and business leaders talk positively about how the whole system came together during the pandemic. We learnt from each other, ensured the right people were in the (virtual) room, and actively looked to overcome barriers. Most importantly, we had a shared goal: to keep supply chains functioning and feed the nation.

Resilience of the system will be tested in different ways in the future. Issues like climate change, geopolitical tensions and obesity will present a different type of crisis.

At the recent Farm to Fork Summit, the current government announced the creation of a new Defra-chaired Senior Officials Food Leadership Group to bring together Whitehall departments to help drive progress. This is a positive step, and one I expect Defra will be keen to pursue, whoever forms the new government.

It is just as important that the people we work with across the food system collaborate effectively, using our collective skills and expertise.


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IGD’s role as a convening power across the food value chain is only able to move to the next level thanks to the sustained and effective work by the different membership bodies across the food industry. The NFU, BRC, FDF, UKHospitality, as well as the many smaller trade associations, are all doing excellent work at raising issues and proposing solutions to government activity that convenes the whole value chain so much more effective.

By demonstrating how we are collectively playing our part, we will make it easier for government to recognise where they too can play a role and accelerate progress.

As I reflect on my first year as CEO of IGD, I believe there are five key strategic priorities for the UK food system where we can work together to drive change:

  • Building resilience: placing food security at the heart of the UK’s national security
  • Supporting sustainable UK agriculture: starting with farm data and baselining
  • Accelerating the transition to net zero: working together from a sector-wide plan
  • Building a future-fit workforce: navigating short-term labour issues and long-term skills gaps
  • Securing a healthier future: incentivising dietary change.

Addressing these requires strong collaboration across the whole food system. We won’t make progress fast enough without working in partnership, and a more resilient, sustainable, and economically successful UK food system must be a shared goal we can all get behind.