Leader Views


Posted on:
22nd February, 2021

How LEPs can put the economics of good food at the heart of local recovery

Recent events have reminded us just how tight the food supply chain is and how easily sudden spikes and dips in demand and supply can impact that. But where there are challenges there are also significant opportunities. Ahead of a meeting with LEP Food Sector leads, Deputy CEO of Sustainable Food Places, Ben Reynolds, looks at how more investment and commitment in localising food economies could help exploit these opportunities with LEPs well placed to lead on that.

How LEPs can put the economics of good food at the heart of local recovery

"The food sector, from farm to fork, is the UK’s biggest industry, employing 1 in 7 of our workforce. It is a sector that crosses the whole country and every community; from food production, food supply, to hospitality and retail (and everything in between). It is also a sector that meets multiple government agendas including advancing the green economic recovery, improving public health and boosting local jobs. Recent crises have exposed how fragile our existing food system is, with shortages in some areas, and a need to consider how to make our food supply more resilient. But they have also highlighted opportunities with some localised food economies adapting and growing to meet this demand.

As Brexit joins Covid-19 in affecting our food supply chain, more investment and commitment in localising our food economies could help these enterprises capitalise on this moment and grow, and Local Enterprise Partnerships are well placed to lead on this.

The good news for LEPs is that a parallel network of food partnerships has emerged over the last ten years, bringing together key players in local food systems who would be keen to work more closely with colleagues in LEPs to explore how food and farming could boost the local economy whilst delivering on other health, social and environmental aims.

There are currently over 50 active food partnerships across the UK, covering 26 out of the 38 LEPs across England and Wales. The partnerships are formed from public, private and third sectors and exist in towns, cities, boroughs or counties and they are driving innovation and best practice of all aspects of healthy and sustainable food. The partnerships are supported by the Sustainable Food Places network, which is an initiative led by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, Soil Association and Food Matters.

Sustainable Food Places works across six key areas: nature friendly food systems, food poverty reduction, good food movements, food governance, food procurement and sustainable food economies. Food partnerships have been integral to the emergency food response this year. They’ve helped keep small businesses afloat, supported producers diversify their supply chains and helped to keep food markets open.

Many food partnerships are now looking to bring in investment to support local food businesses, especially in the current economic climate, to provide infrastructure, training and other tools. This will help save and create jobs and rebuild our high streets, whilst also improving the sustainability and resilience of the local food and farming economy.

There are LEPs who have already begun championing this work: the London Economic Action Partnership, which links with the London Food Board, has invested in many sustainable food related projects through its Good Growth Fund, including the Mission Kitchen which offers affordable kitchen-space to start ups. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership has been investigating this year the potential for more local produce into public procurement and their Growth Hub has been bringing producers together to streamline and localise food supply chains within the region. In Derby, a new sustainable food factory is being built this year, funded through the £900m Getting Building Fund.

The appetite and interest exists, and food partnerships could, together with LEPs, provide the missing link for pushing this agenda to the forefront.

How can I find out more?

Sustain has produced two relevant reports; putting good food jobs at the heart of the economic recovery and How can Local Enterprise Partnerships put better food and farming at the heat of the economic recovery?

To find out if your LEP region has a food partnership, check out the Sustainable Food Places website here

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