We continue the serialisation of our report, Policies for the City Region. We have long been interested in looking at Greater Manchester’s food systems as case studies for wider economic and social issues. Here we offer some practical proposals for making our food chains fairer, more secure and less environmentally damaging. it’s all part of our vision of a Viable Economy. And there’s plenty more to come! But if you can’t wait: download it here. You can also see out policies page HERE and our publications page HERE. The party manifestos for the GM mayoral election are out. See how much overlap you can find with our proposals (hint: there is quite a bit in at least two of them).
2 A sustainable and affordable food supply and distribution network
Manchester City Council already has a formal policy that commits it to,
working towards Sustainable Food City status
develop a policy on health and take aways to support improvements in the diets and health of our residents
working towards reducing food waste in the city
working to alleviate the scandal of food poverty in the city
supporting sustainable food procurement through its own purchases and through its influence with other public sector organisations
It also noted the possibilities for job creation from a sustainable food growing industry.
This very much reflects our own thinking and we would encourage Manchester to build on this so that such an approach becomes the basis for all food procurement across the city. And we want to see this adopted across the whole region. But more still can be done, to address the areas that such a policy framework does not reach and we develop these ideas below.
Policy 2.1: Establish Food Boards in each borough and at GM level, drawing on Manchester’s model.
The thinking behind it:
To implement the above policy, Manchester set up a Food Board, bringing together a variety of stakeholders within an overall public health orientation. This is a good idea in principle, but the Board lacks “teeth”, being essentially a forum for sharing best practice.
To achieve sufficient scale, the approach needs replicating by each local authority and there needs to be a strategic board at city regional level. The Boards should be awarded a status within the political and administrative hierarchies of local government reflecting the central importance of food in all our lives.
Policy 2.2: Influence supermarkets and market dominant food firms to work responsibly, source locally, reduce waste.
The thinking behind it:
If we are serious about healthy, low carbon, affordable food, then we need to deal with the systems that distribute the larger part of what Greater Manchester eats. The food we eat comes overwhelmingly through supermarkets and these companies exert a powerful, often malign, influence over the entire food supply system. Their supply networks are vulnerable to shocks and disruptions of all kinds. Shoppers have come to expect ready access to a cornucopian variety of “perfect” fresh products at all times. This can only be achieved through significant over-production and therefore waste. This also entails domineering relationships with suppliers. Consumption, imports and the use of energy-demanding refrigeration have all been increasing, in large part due to the clever marketing strategies of the supermarkets. “Imports grew by 51% between 1990 and 2005 by weight due to a combination of a 15% increase in consumption at the national level and a decrease in UK agricultural output”. The establishment of large supermarkets drives smaller traders out of business and a “Friends of the Earth study of local food schemes found that on average just over half of business turnover was returned to the local economy, compared to as little as 5 per cent for supermarkets”. Scotland and Northern Ireland have effective supermarket levies, returning value to the local economy.
Local government can use its soft, place-making and convening power to bring supermarkets to account for their local impacts on diets, incomes and ecological footprints. Local sourcing of products is one element of what’s needed. One model would be Enfield council’s practice of inviting companies operating in the borough to discussions as to how they can discharge their moral responsibility to local people that comes with the “licence to operate”. Sadly, up to now, local government has seen supermarkets as aiding economic regeneration, a short sighted and naïve view.
Policy 2.3: Strengthen the emergent “alternative” food production and distribution network (e.g. community-supported agriculture/horticulture schemes) and the city region’s significant food processing industry.
The thinking behind it:
Manchester has two rather different sectors concerned with food. There is a small, energetic “alternative” network with community-farmer links, co-operative retailers, fresh produce distribution to retailers and caterers, and educational projects (for example on cooking) and food waste reduction and re-use initiatives. Associated with this activity has been work on policy development. There is a much larger, industrial food processing industry in the city whose aims and ways of working have been very different. This is a significant element of the economy, worth £1.06Bn and employing 19,900 people in Greater Manchester in 2014. Researchers at CRESC, University of Manchester identify this as one of the sectors of the “Foundational Economy”, that “…. sheltered sector of the economy that supplies mundane but essential goods and services such as: infrastructures; utilities; food processing, retailing and distribution; and health, education and welfare. The foundational economy is unglamorous but important because is used by everyone regardless of income or social status, and practically is a major determinant of material welfare.” The food industry, like other foundational parts of the economy is relatively resilient since people have to eat, whatever else happens.
We suggest that there should be scope for achieving a greater scale for the innovative, “alternative”, food sector while improving the quality and sustainability of the mainstream food processing and manufacturing industry, thereby contributing to food security, reducing environmental impacts, improving population health, while protecting and increasing jobs. This will require a strategic approach bringing together the five elements of government/public sector, private business, universities, active citizens and the organisations of civil society, something that a GMCA with a clear orientation to the Viable Economy could make happen.
Policy 2.4: Work over the medium term for the replacement of charitable food banks with user-run food coops.
The thinking behind it:
Recent years, in the context of government folly in pursuit of austerity in public expenditure, have seen increasing numbers cast into precarity and destitution. Civil society has responded with the growth of food banks, making available a basic basket of foodstuffs and other necessities on a charitable basis. This has been an admirable response but it has its limits, casting poor people into an essentially passive role as recipients of charity, with the concomitant feelings of shame, anger and gratitude . Whilst many food aid initiatives are important spaces of caring and solidarity, and some run food purchase coops at the same time they nevertheless fail to address the underlying causes of household food insecurity. A shift from reliance on charity to deal with food aid is needed in order to uphold the right to affordable access to food and good nutrition. DEMOS has proposed community supermarkets as an alternative to charitable food aid, suggesting that co-operatives might be one way of delivering these, funded by a Government ‘conversion fund’ for those food banks willing to convert to an alternative, longer term form of affordable food initiatives. Indeed the conversion of food banks to food co-operatives has been shown to work elsewhere, enabling people to regain power over their situation and establishing alternative economic relations for the distribution of food.
…..to be continued, or if you want it now, download here: https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/policies-for-the-city-region-the-longer-version-v3-final.pdf
You can also see our policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.