FareShare has slammed government bureaucracy after Defra bosses admitted they were not sure where money pulled from a pilot on redistributing food surplus had been re-allocated.
MPs on the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee this week quizzed Defra officials on where the £15m originally given under Michael Gove, which included funding for Fareshare’s Surplus with Purpose fund, was now being spent instead.
Defra permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein said she “understood” the money had been allocated to Defra’s overall funding towards farmers, but promised to write to MPs on the committee to confirm.
The government funding, announced in 2018, was a key victory in The Grocer’s Waste Not Want Not campaign on food waste. FareShare’s scheme helped pay farmers and other food companies to divert surplus food to tackle hunger and help hundreds of community groups.
The charity has since launched a campaign for renewed funding of £25m a year to restart the scheme, which it says would save the government an estimated £140m from the benefits of tackling food poverty, as well as saving nearly 70,000 tonnes of CO2 from food waste.
After the hearing, FareShare CEO George Wright, former commercial director at M&S and Tesco, said it was a scandal that Defra had withdrawn the funding at a time when millions had been driven into food security by the cost of living crisis.
He stressed the funding would benefit farmers, who were the ones having to bury crops back into the ground because they lacked funding to redistribute surplus.
“Of the £15m pilot fund we invested £1.9m, much of it farm-based, and redistributed 4,400 tonnes of surplus food, equivalent to over 10 million meals,” Wright told The Grocer.
“No other trial as we understand it came close to that.”
He added: “We’ve made frequent and numerous requests for funding to scale this up since, but have either been refused, directed to other departments or told that there is no new money. In other words, it gets lost in bureaucracy.
“This would be a fantastic investment in both our farmers and the community sector who provide a whole spectrum of services to families right across the UK, not just food.
“This money is needed now more than ever,” he added. “Despite the reports that inflation is coming down, that’s distorted by the fact that inflation was high at this time last year. two-year inflation continues to rise and is well over 20%, higher for those shopping in the lower price point end of the market.
“The government needs to pull its finger out. This is a no-brainer.”