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Coalition mania: Why the food sector can celebrate!

02 June 2010

It's summer, the weather's come good and the food and drink sector skills council says we have reason to be upbeat as the Coalition spells out its policies in detail. So let's celebrate!

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, said he had received assurances from ministers at a breakfast briefing held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the government intended to ‘fully recognise’ the economic and strategic importance of the food and drink supply chain.

“I was greatly heartened by how both the new Secretary of State Caroline Spelman and Minister of State Jim Paice talked about engaging with the whole of the food chain,” said Jack. “When asked if we could expect the new government to recognise the economic importance of food processing and manufacture, logistics and retail as well as the politically sensitive area of farming and agriculture, there was a clear recognition that this had been a failing of past policy.

“This is very welcome. For too long, food and drink has been treated as a group of separate industries, and its importance has not been recognised by past governments, despite the whole supply chain contributing £155 billion to the economy and employing 3.6 million people. As a single, integrated industry, food and drink has a key role to play in food security, sustainability, the development of advanced and green technologies and, as one of the most reliable sectors in terms of output and productivity, in creating jobs and returning the UK economy to growth.”

Jack also welcomed the fact that education and skills had largely been protected from the Treasury’s first round of departmental budget cuts announced earlier this week. “The pledge to allocate £150 million from savings to fund an extra 50,000 adult Apprenticeships will be widely applauded among employers,” he said. “Apprenticeships in their current form are one of the big success stories of the sector skills network, and support for them demonstrates that this is a government which recognises the importance of skills to boost productivity and performance.

“This will be of particular benefit to the food and drink industry because of the relatively high age profile of the workforce. We have long argued that if you are going to offer a flexible and relevant training programme which employers trust to deliver results, as they no doubt do with Apprenticeships, it is counter-productive to only make funding available for employees in a certain age bracket. Adult Apprenticeships have a vital role to play in enabling employers to re-train workers effectively to meet the changing demands of the fast-paced modern economy.”


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