Food and Drink Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th September 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-07641, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on Scotland’s food and drink strategy, “Ambition 2030”. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak button now.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Over the past few weeks, I have been a very lucky chap indeed. For example, in the excellent food and drink retail specialist Elephants in the Pantry in Grantown-on-Spey, I sampled a nip of whisky from what I believe is the world’s only community-owned distillery, GlenWyvis, which I recommend to the chamber. I have also had the opportunity to sample Thistly Cross cider from Dunbar, which is a terrific success story, as well as Mara Seaweed’s absolutely delicious seaweed, which is exported to the USA. Members might not know this—I certainly did not—but seaweed for consumption is stored in barrels. Each barrel is worth $1,000, which means that one barrel of Scottish seaweed is worth 20 barrels of oil. [


.] It is a somewhat unusual statistic in the lexicon of Scottish Government statistics. Finally, in launching the annual food and drink fortnight, I had the world’s most aesthetically pleasing and beautiful array of delicious breakfast fare in the Barras in Glasgow.

I know that in this debate we will all want to celebrate the excellence and entrepreneurial flair of businesses throughout the country and local contributions in that respect. The examples I gave typify what seems to be nothing short of a revolution in our food and drink sector. I have not frequently advocated revolution, but whatever our political views about the desirability of revolution might be, I hope that the revolution in food and drink is one that we can all support.

The success of the industry is well known: turnover has increased by 35 per cent since 2007; exports are at record levels; the birth rate of new businesses in the food and drink sector is higher than anywhere in the United Kingdom; and it covers communities across the land.

At the heart of that success has been our reputation. Our brand is based on provenance, our reputation for high quality, our clean natural environment and our heritage, but none of our success could have been achieved without the passion, dedication and entrepreneurship of the thousands of people who work across the industry, and I pay tribute to them.

When I meet those men and women, I am always struck by their verve, their drive and their optimism. With “Ambition 2030”, the document that Scotland Food & Drink has produced—I am not sure whether the code of conduct allows me to wave it around—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You have already done it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you for spotting that, Presiding Officer.

With the publication of “Ambition 2030”, those men and women are right to be optimistic. The industry is planning for the future and is doing so with high ambition, because it knows that demand for our products is rising. We need to exploit those opportunities, and that is what the new food and drink strategy is about. Published earlier this year, “Ambition 2030” is a bold plan of action to grow the value of the industry to £30 billion by 2030. The Scottish Government supports that ambitious goal.

Over the past 10 years, we have worked hand in hand with the industry. It has told us that, to fulfil its potential, it requires new thinking and new ways of doing things. That is what led to the £10 million investment that we have made to support the strategy.

“Ambition 2030” is founded on three pillars: people and skills; innovation; and the supply chain. No less than 115,000 people are already employed in the industry across the country and we believe that there will be 27,000 new opportunities over the next decade. Therefore, it is vital that we have people to meet that demand. Over the next year, a number of measures will be taken, including education programmes, recruitment campaigns and a new national mentoring programme.

The world is changing. Increasingly, consumers want healthier food. That presents many opportunities for our businesses, but innovation is required. We have launched a single gateway for advice and support called “Make innovation happen”, which will be the platform on which, together with our excellent research institutions, we will build more action.

The bedrock of the industry is, of course, our primary producers. It is important to remember that and to explicitly accord credit to our farmers, crofters and fishermen. It is very easy to neglect to do that, and that omission has been noticed in the past. I want to correct that and to make it clear that it is our farmers, our fishermen and our crofters who produce the high-quality food and drink that we celebrate. We should never forget that and should value and cherish what they do in the times ahead.

The supply chain does not always function as it should. Our farmers must get a fair share of the margin. We need processors, retailers and food service companies to build on their good work and to deepen their commitment to that. That will be a key part of the sector action plans that will be developed, starting with fruit and veg and seafood.

At the heart of the strategy is a clear focus on markets. Efforts in international markets are bearing fruit—there were record levels of exports in 2016. We also have a network of in-market specialists in 11 international cities. They are individuals whose job it is to be members of a sales force for Scotland’s food and drink around the world. I wanted to meet them and, when I did so recently, I was very impressed by their professionalism and their passion for Scotland, as well as their market knowledge.

Only last weekend, our specialist in the USA secured a two-month showcase of Scottish products in the high-end retail store Bristol Farms. I believe that they have also introduced Californians to oatcakes, which had not occurred hitherto. Our specialist in France recently secured a listing of Scottish cheeses by the famous French cheese wholesaler Desailly—I congratulate Clarks Speciality Foods on helping to secure that—and our specialist in Shanghai secured a listing of shortbread in more than 200 stores of a large coffee chain across China. There are many more such achievements and our in-market specialists are helping to sell Scotland all over the world.

That good work will continue, but we must focus on the UK and our home market. Many of our businesses are doing well in the UK market, but there is more potential, whether through retail, food service or artisan markets.

Scotland Food & Drink is developing a UK market strategy, which builds on the things that have worked well in export markets. It will include placing staff directly into the buying teams of retailers and food services, because we know that that works. However, to be successful across the UK and in international markets, we need to have a sound foundation at home.

Interest and pride in our food and drink are flourishing: Scottish shoppers are increasingly looking for local produce; schools and hospitals are sourcing more locally; and visitors are more interested in our food and drink. We need to do two things. First, we need to ensure that there is a sustainable and productive farming sector that underpins the food and drink industry, and our four agricultural champions are taking forward work to help achieve that.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I welcome the establishment of the four champions, but does the cabinet secretary not think that we need to add in a champion for environment, landscape and all the amazing environmental works that Scottish agriculture delivers?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We already have champions in the environmental group, which my colleague and friend Roseanna Cunningham met at the summit last year and which is to meet again shortly. Of course, as I am sure the member knows, we also have on the National Council of Rural Advisers the agricultural development officer of the Soil Association Scotland, which is at the very heart of the environment.

The champions’ work has a broad focus on agriculture, but it will also consider the wider rural, environmental and economic impacts. That complements work that is being taken forward by other stakeholder groups such as I just mentioned—the environment and climate change roundtable, whose membership includes RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Secondly, we need to increase demand for locally produced food and drink. Our programme for government set out a number of commitments to support that and today I published a paper providing more detail of the range of actions that we will take forward with industry.

Those cover three main areas. The first is public food. Progress has been made to increase local sourcing in schools, hospitals and prisons. Forty-eight per cent of what is sourced is Scottish, an increase from 41 per cent in 2007—progress made. Our colleagues in the national health service and Scotland Excel are committed to doing more and together we have identified the actions that will have the most impact.

There will be a focus on supplier development. Our programme will support 30 businesses with real growth potential to better compete for public sector contracts and exploit other market opportunities. Building our businesses’ capability is key if we want them to grow and diversify.

Our expansion of the food for life programme across schools has the potential to transform local supply chains. Our new investment of £1 million over the next three years will have local sourcing at its heart.

That requires support from local authorities and I will personally continue to work with them to encourage greater take-up, and I hope that other members will add their support, too.

Secondly, we will build on the good work that has been done to enhance the experience for visitors and tourists, including by innovative business, such as in the Highlands and Islands, in Rhoda Grant’s constituency, where the Black Isle Brewery and the Cairngorm Brewery have increasingly played a part in tourism as well as food and drink.

Last year, more than 14 million visitors came to Scotland and that number is rising. Globally, food tourism is a growing industry. We will work with VisitScotland and, in March, we will publish the first national food and drink tourism action plan, which will set out actions across a number of areas including expanding the food charter across the hospitality industry and visitor attractions and enhancing the taste our best quality assurance scheme awarded to restaurants, cafes and hotels.

Thirdly, we will showcase the very best of Scotland’s regions through a series of events, targeting support to local producers. One of our strengths is the diversity of our regions and their unique food production so, over the next two years, we will create six regional showcasing events to promote the regions’ finest produce to domestic buyers. Those events will be a celebration of local producers, connecting businesses with buyers, and such events are very successful. We will also launch a new regional food fund to give small producers an opportunity to access grants to generate interest.

I will comment briefly on the amendments and, as is always the case, I want to be as consensual as possible. I have decided that we will accept the Labour amendment to ensure that more beer is displayed in our shops and supermarkets, and I commend the progress that Brakes has made in supporting craft brewers and the success that it has already achieved.

I would like to have supported the Tories’ amendment—honestly—as we want to support more productive and profitable farming, and much of our effort is devoted to that. However, the bit about business rates at the end of the amendment is a bit unclear. In any event, I know that the Tories will welcome the fact that we have not supported the Barclay recommendation to put agricultural buildings on the valuation roll, nor have we supported the recommendation to make food processing in farms rateable. That is common ground. The vagueness at the end of the amendment was a bit of a shame, because I am such a consensual chap.

I turn to the amendment from Mr Rumbles, whose heart is in the right place—we all know that—but whose interpretation of the previous amendment that the Parliament passed is somewhat idiosyncratic. In that amendment, he called for an “independent group”, which is what we have, but his new amendment says that we must have a group of stakeholders. However, if there is a group of stakeholders, it is not really an independent group. Moreover, I have demonstrated that we have a wide range of people on the group, covering the forestry, environment and tourism sectors, and members will see that if they look at the CVs of the excellent people on the group.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I want to be consensual, too, cabinet secretary, but you must wind up and move your motion.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will always support you, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That is not moving the motion.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges the growth in Scotland’s food and drink industry since 2007 and the contribution that it makes to the economy; supports the aim of Scotland’s national food and drink strategy, Ambition 2030, to double the value of the industry; recognises the importance of growing markets for Scottish produce internationally, across the UK and in Scotland; encourages everyone to play their part to support and promote locally-produced food and drink; pays tribute to the farmers and fishermen who work tirelessly to produce the raw materials that underpin the industry’s success, and supports Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight and the aim of the campaign to encourage more people to change one thing and consume more Scottish produce.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I refer members to my register of interests.

The cabinet secretary was in an ebullient mood when he started speaking, but he finished slightly less ebulliently when he said that he is unable to support our amendment. Perhaps if he listens carefully to what I am about to say, he will find it easier to do so.

Before moving my amendment, I will make a statement in my capacity as convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. The committee unanimously agreed yesterday that we would, given the importance of food and drink to Scotland, focus part of our scrutiny of this year’s budget on that area. That is an acknowledgment of the importance of the subject.

A fair time ago, Scottish cuisine had become something of a joke among comedians. Thanks to characters such as Rab C Nesbitt, it appeared that the traditional Scottish dining experience started and ended at the deep-fat fryer, so I am very happy that Scottish food and drink has earned itself a vastly more positive reputation in the past 10 years. Whether it is the beef and barley that come from Strathspey, the soft fruit that comes from the alluvial plains of Perthshire, the distinctive sheep and cattle that come from the Highlands, or the fish that are caught by our fishermen, we have one of the best natural larders in the world and we need to use it wisely. We need a sustainable harvest that will not deplete the environment.

I welcome the progress that has been made since the strategy was launched in 2007. Much of that can be put down to the design of the Scotland Food & Drink partnership, which is a collaborative model that has brought together the Government, public agencies and industry. There is a good lesson to be learned from that partnership. It has struck the right balance by ensuring that the Government knows, and is told, when to step forward and when to stand back, which gives the sector the freedom that it needs to allow industry to lead innovation. The Scottish Government must remember that, when it designs other schemes to support rural businesses. My plea to the cabinet secretary is that we do not repeat the administrative burdens that we have seen in the beef efficiency scheme.

Credit should be given where credit is due. The achievements of Scotland Food & Drink include turnover being increased by 44 per cent, exports up by 56 per cent and an industry that is worth £14.4 billion a year. Such economic growth will always find cross-party support.

That success does not mean that all is perfect—far from it. If we look carefully at the statistics, there are one or two concerning trends. Annual turnover peaked in 2014 and has fallen from £14.4 billion to £13.5 billion in 2015, and employment in the sector has fallen. Therefore, the renewed purpose in Scotland Food & Drink’s growth strategy could not have arrived sooner, to my mind. We welcome the ambitions that are stated in the new growth strategy to resolve the skills shortages in the sector and to double annual turnover by 2030. Those laudable targets can be reached—but only as long as the Scottish Government focuses on and delivers in the following areas.

First, the Scottish Government must do more to ensure that farm-gate prices are realistic. To paraphrase the words of Andrew McCornick, the president of NFU Scotland, farmers, growers and crofters need to benefit from the huge growth that has taken place in the food and drink industry. However, they do not—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr Mountain. I am getting strange signals. Can anyone tell me what is wrong?

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

There seems to be something wrong with the sound.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We will ask broadcasting to look into that. I am sorry about that, Mr Mountain. Please continue. I will give you a bit of extra time.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I hope that you did not miss my words, Presiding Officer. I can start again, if you would like.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No. Please, no. We heard you. [



Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will continue where I left off. Since 2011, farm incomes have fallen by 75 per cent, and 59 per cent of farmers make less than the minimum agricultural wage an hour. The dairy industry is perhaps the best example; dairy farmers get a very low gate price that does not reflect the effort that they put in.

Without realistic prices for produce, farmers cannot invest and increase production to supply the needs of a growing food and drink sector. We must ensure that our farmers and fishermen get a fair price for what they produce. The processing and retailing industries must understand that they need producers, so they must reward them or production will surely stall and shrivel.

I welcome the fact that the new strategy has identified that profitability must be unlocked through the supply chain. It is always easy to declare ambitions, but much harder to deliver on them. We need more detail on how those will be achieved.

The “Bank of Scotland Food and Drink Report” for 2017 stated that 62 per cent of Scottish firms

“would be prepared to pay a higher price to primary producers based” in Scotland

“to guarantee security of supply and maintain the provenance of their products.”

We need to know how the Scottish Government will ensure that that happens.

That brings me to my second point. The simplest way to ensure that farm businesses can be more profitable is to create an environment that stimulates economic growth. That will not be possible under a business rates regime that, to my mind, disadvantages the hospitality and the food and drink sectors. The Government cannot have its oatcake and eat it. Restrictive business rates are incompatible with high economic growth. I urge the Scottish Government to look again and to try to take more action to reduce high business rates for the hospitality and food and drink industries.

Thirdly, the Scottish Government and local government must make greater strides in supporting producers by sourcing quality Scottish food and drink. If we are serious about making Scotland a good-food nation, we must ensure that the public sector leads the way in championing high-quality local produce and delivering it to our schools and hospitals. That has been talked about in this Parliament since 2007; we do not seem to have progressed much. The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 paved the way for the public sector to deliver on its promise to source and serve local Scottish produce. It is time to deliver. The Scottish Government has talked the talk; it is time to walk the walk and get results.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome many of the ambitions in the 2030 strategy for the Scottish food and drink sector, but the Scottish Government must understand that to achieve the targets that we all want and which Scotland needs, we must ensure that primary producers are rewarded and are profitable, that business rates for the sector do not stifle growth, and that local produce becomes the first choice of us all—not only at home, but in schools, hospitals and wherever else the public and private sectors are supplied.

I move amendment S5M-07641.3, after “the UK and in Scotland;” to insert:

“calls for an approach that ensures an increase in production and profitability from the farm gate to the end of the supply chain; urges the Scottish Government and local government to support producers by sourcing quality Scottish food and drink; calls on the Scottish Government to take action to reduce the high business rates that disadvantage the food and drink sector;”.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Food and drink are hugely valuable to the Scottish economy. We have worldwide recognition for the quality of our produce. We must protect and build on that reputation because it leads to a premium price for our produce and so to a better deal for all our producers.

We have iconic products such as Scotch whisky, the Arbroath smokie, Orkney Scottish island cheddar and the Stornoway black pudding, which I had a small hand in protecting. Those premium products have rightly earned their place in the foodie hall of fame—so much so that they need to be protected from those who would imitate the brands, and thereby damage their status. Protection has been one of the benefits that we get from being part of the European Union. The process begins in the member state and ends up with European protection. I wonder what thought has been given to continuing that protection beyond Brexit, as part of any new trade agreements with Europe and the wider world? Loss of protection for such brands could, by impacting on the premium that they currently earn, have a financial impact on the industries that have built a reputation for excellence.

Much of our food is recognised as excellent because of our environment and our drive for sustainability. That our fish and meat come from the most natural of origins is recognised the world over. Again, much of that has been achieved by adhering to European legislation for environmental protection. Again, we must not allow that to be threatened by Brexit. We need to maintain and build on those standards of excellence.

We must also showcase our food locally. Not so long ago, it was difficult to source local produce in shops and restaurants. That has changed, and local produce is becoming more available in restaurants, but there is still work to do to make it available in shops so that local people and visitors alike can enjoy it.

I turn to our amendment. Too often, tied pubs are limited in what they can sell. They are normally forced to sell the brand of beer that is produced by the brewery that owns the pub, but that does not necessarily meet customer demand. The beer is often sold to the licensee at an inflated price, thereby cutting the licensee’s profit margins as well as their customers’ choice. We have all seen tourists asking for a local beer in a pub and witnessed their disappointment at the lack of that choice. Many beer drinkers are akin to foodies when it comes to trying the local beer as part of their holiday experience. If it is not available, they will go elsewhere. It also leaves them with a bad impression of the whole area that they have been visiting.

We also miss the opportunity to showcase our local beers, which could lead to their expansion by opening up different markets. Scotland has a growing industry of artisan breweries. We should be helping them to grow their market share. My colleague, Neil Bibby, is looking to legislate against the excesses of tied pubs with the aim of providing more choice for customers and more leeway for licensees. I hope that he will take time in his winding up speech to explain a little more about what he is proposing in his bill and how it will benefit all those who are interested in protecting our pubs and the traditional social setting that they provide. Our amendment today does not go as far as Neil Bibby’s proposed bill, but it does ask Parliament to agree that Scottish beer should have a bigger share of the market.

I turn to the other amendments. We agree with the Conservative amendment that we should be doing all that we can to remove the barriers to growth. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution has said that he will, in the forthcoming budget, consider the range of recommendations arising from the Barclay review. Therefore, although we have some sympathy with the position that was set out by Edward Mountain, we will await the budget with interest and will not support the Conservative amendment, at this time.

The Liberal Democrat amendment points out the limited membership of the National Council of Rural Advisers, about which we have also been critical. I cannot understand a cabinet secretary who represents Inverness and Nairn appointing a council of advisors of whom none lives north of Perth. If he knows anything about his constituency, he surely understands that the challenges to farming, crofting and the food and drink industry are very different the further north we go.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The council is, as Parliament asked, independent, so it does not cover every area, every sector, or every stakeholder interest. However, it includes as its co-chair Lorne Crerar, who—as Rhoda Grant well knows—is the chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has a home in the Highlands, and has impeccable knowledge and expertise about the whole range of the rural economy in the Highlands and Islands.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Lorne Crerar may have a home in the Highlands, but he is not normally Highlands and Islands based, and he is not part of that industry. What the people in the Highlands and Islands are missing is somebody who works in the food and drink industry, in farming or in crofting, who knows how difficult it is on the front line and who can bring that knowledge and experience to the council. Because of that, we will support the Liberal Democrat amendment tonight.

We have talked about excellence and our premium produce; we also need a food and drink strategy that looks at people’s right to food. Too many people are feeding their families out of food banks—not just people on benefits, but people who are in work, too. We need to eradicate the need for food banks. People need an income that allows them to eat a nutritious diet.

Too often, we see unhealthy food being cheap and available while healthier alternatives are way out of the reach of some families. We see a growth in health conditions, that we thought were long gone, due to malnutrition—something that our grandparents thought they had eradicated, and which they would be disappointed to see coming back. A living wage and social security benefits at a level that allows parents to feed their children are surely things that we must all aspire to. Although we can rightly boast about our wonderful produce, we need to make sure that all our citizens benefit from it.

We have a similar debate to this every year during food and drink fortnight. Normally, it is a nice debate that gives everyone the opportunity to highlight excellence in their constituencies. However, this year, our producers are facing real challenges around common agricultural policy payments and Brexit. It is crucial that we find solutions to those challenges in order to put the valuable food and drink industry back on a stable footing.

I move amendment S5M-07641.1, to insert at end:

“, and believes that there is particular scope to increase the share of Scottish-brewed products in Scotland's pubs.”

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

As the three contributors to this debate so far have mentioned, Scotland’s food and drink industry is a real success story.

There are so many aspects to our food and drink industry that in the short time that I have available I want to concentrate on one important element of it: the Scotch whisky industry. At the moment, that industry adds some £5 billion to Scotland’s economy. It is particularly important to our rural areas, providing some 7,000 local jobs in areas where there may not be a vast array of alternative employment opportunities.

Over my years as a member of the Scottish Parliament from the north-east of Scotland, I have had the pleasure of visiting several distilleries in my area—including, most recently, my local distillery at Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire. It is not just about the number of direct jobs that are supported by whisky production but the added value to the tourism industry that it provides. It is a good thing that more and more distilleries are adding visitor centres to capture the tourist market. That has to be a good development for all concerned.

Having acknowledged the success story of our Scottish food and drink industry by highlighting the contribution of Scotch whisky, I turn my attention to the future of the food and drinks industry as a whole. I make no apology for now focusing on what I have been asking the cabinet secretary, who is responsible for rural development, to do for the past 15 months and to which my amendment refers.

As soon as the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union some 15 months ago, I urged the cabinet secretary to set up a group of experts to design a bespoke system of agricultural support for the future of our industry without delay. I was pleased when, in a debate back in January of this year, Fergus Ewing accepted my amendment calling for the setting up of such a group. However, I find it amusing that Fergus Ewing has just said that I misinterpreted that amendment. It was my amendment, so I do not think that I misinterpreted it. Could it be that it is the cabinet secretary who does not listen properly?

When the cabinet secretary announced his National Council of Rural Advisers at the Royal Highland Show on 22 June, I was somewhat disappointed to see the very narrow field and backgrounds of the people whom he chose. All those people are worthy in their fields, and I have no criticism of any of them being involved in the process—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Yes, there is a but—and it is a big but. What a missed opportunity. Not only has it taken a year to establish such a group, which has wasted valuable time, but Fergus Ewing chose the group’s members from a very narrow field. Where are the people from our environmental organisations, consumer groups and other non-farming producers, such as those from crofting, which Rhoda Grant mentioned? If we are to design a bespoke system of agricultural support for our food and drinks industry post-Brexit, we need to ensure that everyone has buy-in into it. If we choose people for a council of advisers from very similar backgrounds in the agricultural or farming industry to design the new system, we are setting ourselves up to fail in that essential task, and I do not want us to do that.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I think that I agree with Mr Rumbles’s sentiments, but I do not agree that the membership of the National Council of Rural Advisers is narrow in any way. I respectfully suggest that Mr Rumbles should look very carefully at the curriculum vitae of those people, who display distinction and eminence in a large number of areas. Although there are several farmers on the council, farmers look after the landscape—they are the custodians of the countryside. To say that there is somehow an artificial divide between farmers and environmentalists is a tad unfair to farmers individually and collectively.

I reassure Mr Rumbles that I have written to 236 stakeholders to ask them to contribute to the work. Scottish Environment LINK has already done so. It is for the independent group to decide how to take forward its work when I meet it next week and to decide what to do, but I believe that it will be likely to engage with the stakeholders.

Mike Rumbles’s amendment back in January did not say that the group should comprise stakeholders; it said that we should involve stakeholders. That is what we have done, that is what we are doing, and that is what we will do.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I can allow you some extra time for a long intervention, Mr Rumbles.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. That was indeed a long intervention from the cabinet secretary, and I am happy that I took it.

I have in my hands the curricula vitae of all the members of the council. If anybody cares to read them, they will see that all those people are distinguished. I have already said that I have no criticism of the people who are involved in the council, but if we examine those curriculum vitae carefully, we see that they come from a very narrow field.

Fergus Ewing talked about an “artificial divide”. There is no artificial divide, but we need inclusivity. We need consumer groups and environmental groups, not just the focus that exists.

I urge Fergus Ewing to enter into the spirit of what I thought he had accepted back in January—that we need the contributions of experts from as wide a field as possible, which would certainly include producer groups, environmental organisations and consumers, to advise him on what is needed for the future of our food and drinks industry. It is not yet too late to enlarge the

National Council of Rural Advisers to encompass experts in those fields. I am not arguing that people should be dropped from it—far from it; I am saying that the cabinet secretary needs to include people.

We all want the process to succeed. Nobody in the chamber wants it to fail, and the best way to make it succeed is to listen to others and to what all the groups that are involved have to say. If we all get buy-in, we will succeed.

I urge the cabinet secretary to change tack. Too much time has been wasted in the process. We need action from the cabinet secretary. I urge him to change his mind for the good of the food and drinks industry. We all want to see it succeed.

I move amendment S5M-07641.2, to insert at end:

“; considers that the National Council of Rural Advisers does not meet the expectations agreed by the Parliament through amendment S5M-03463.2 (The Future of Funding for Rural Development) on 19 January 2017, and urges the Scottish Government to expand this to include the broadest possible range of experts and stakeholders, including producers, environmentalists and consumer groups, in designing the bespoke system of agricultural support that Scotland will need, particularly in the event of Brexit, for the Food and Drink Strategy to be a success.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We will now move to the open debate. Speeches should be up to four minutes, please.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Earlier this week, I visited Grewar’s farm shop in my constituency to mark this year’s Scottish food and drink fortnight. It was a very appropriate choice. The word “innovation” features repeatedly in the “Ambition 2030” strategy, and Grewar’s is a farm business that epitomises innovation.

In October 2014, Grewar’s installed its first vending machine at East Ardler farm to answer local demand for its potatoes.

Customers, utilising an accompanying suggestion box, were quick to ask for a wider variety of fresh produce direct from the farm, so carrots, onions, broccoli and free-range eggs were quickly sourced from neighbours, friends and family to broaden the range. Three further vending machines were installed, at Dronley farm, where the shop was established in 2015, and in the Overgate shopping centre in Dundee and the St John’s shopping centre in Perth.

For me, the best bit is that the farm shop, which also offers a range of Scottish craft gins, vodkas and beers, makes an absolute virtue of the food miles that are travelled by the products on sale, providing a distance breakdown for each of the many items, which have been sourced from within a 20-mile radius. Those who visit Grewar’s know that they are not just buying top-quality Scottish produce but supporting local businesses and sourcing products that have not travelled many tens, or indeed hundreds, of miles or, worse still, left Scotland to be packaged before being returned here.

Another innovator, or entrepreneur if you like, in my constituency is Kim Cameron, the driving force behind the Gin Bothy and Cider Bothy products. The strategy talks of the need for collaboration. Kim initially bought in gin from a business in Perth, but she is now working with Graeme Jarron of Ogilvy Spirits, which is based in nearby Glamis, to produce her own base spirit and has expanded the business to establish the Bothy Larder on the outskirts of Kirriemuir, where visitors can experience gin tasting in a bothy setting, with all the traditional trappings.

Grewar’s and Kim Cameron are not resting on their laurels. Mirroring the ambition of the strategy, both have plans to expand and in so doing tap into the tourism market. Scotland is blessed with many such innovators in the food and drink sector, and I am sure that, as the afternoon unfolds, we will be reminded of that in the contributions from colleagues.

Of course, however, innovation often needs to be enabled, and I want to acknowledge the role of national and local government in that. Scotland Food & Drink, my colleague Richard Lochhead, who served as rural affairs secretary in the previous session of Parliament, and now Fergus Ewing deserve enormous credit for facilitating the growth of the sector. However, I also place on the record my appreciation of the work that is done in my constituency by Angus Council officials Alison Smith and Hilary Tasker, who have not only facilitated but driven the boom in food and drink there.

The latest manifestation of the council’s support for the county’s food and drink offering is the taste of Angus food charter, which aims to promote the use of local food through cafes and restaurants, public bodies, community groups, shops and individuals. It sets out to support local food and drinks businesses and farmers to create a healthier food culture in Angus, resulting in the availability of higher-quality and tastier food for residents and visitors alike. Anyone can sign up. All that they need to do is pledge to make small or large changes in the food that they buy, sell, cook or eat, thereby strengthening among other things the local economy, shorter supply chains and environmental sustainability.

The strategy talks of the need to unlock the sector’s potential by looking outwards and inwards. We are going great guns in Angus in terms of businesses that are selling beyond Scotland—in some cases, well beyond Europe—but, alongside that, we are seeking to raise awareness closer to home of what is on offer on our doorstep. With the tourism boost that is expected to follow the opening of the V&A in Dundee, we are gearing up to ensure that visitors to Angus are sampling the best of our food and drink offering, with all the spin-off benefits that that could have.

We are also meeting the continuing challenges that are noted in the document around deepening collaboration, diversifying markets and customer bases, supporting resilience in the sector and driving forward sustainability. Achieving the growth ambitions of the strategy will require all parts of Scotland and every sector to raise their game still further. Angus is ready to do that.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I am delighted to speak in this important debate, and I thank Fergus Ewing for setting me on a path by raising my interest in public food procurement. It was during one of the many Brexit Tuesday debates last year that, when I dared to suggest that perhaps we should take the opportunity to look at the sourcing of food and drink in public procurement, the cabinet secretary got to his feet, puffed out his chest like all great orators do, and cooed:

“Has Mr Whittle heard of Scotland Excel and is he aware of its work? Does he appreciate that a great many farming businesses ... recognise that Excel and its procurement policy ensure that, to a great extent, food produce is bought in Scotland from Scottish producers and farmers?”—[

Official Report

, 27 September 2016; c 52.]

I am not sure whether the cabinet secretary did not know the details of the Scotland Excel contract or whether he was hoping that I would take a telling, drop the issue and leave with my tail between my legs. However, suitably chastised, I took some time to investigate where the food that we serve to our children in schools and patients in hospitals is sourced, only to discover, as was ultimately reported on the BBC, that large quantities of food and drink that are eminently available from our food producers are imported from around the world. Chicken is imported from Thailand, and flash-dried mashed potato, root vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy produce are among the many products that are imported.

It seems that, although we legislate to ensure that our farmers produce the highest-quality food and pay the living wage, and although we charge them with custodianship of the countryside and demand the highest standards of animal welfare, the Scottish National Party Government procurement policy, through Scotland Excel, prefers cheaper produce that is not subject to the rules that we impose on our food producers.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In my opening speech, I said that we have substantially increased the proportion of locally sourced produce that is procured in the public sector, from 41 to 48 per cent. Of course, that is not enough, but we are making considerable progress. Surely we can unite in agreeing that the task now is to do even better.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary and look forward to seeing the evidence to back that up.

We have an opportunity here to scrutinise the health of our rural economy and, as part of that scrutiny, we should focus on what can be done to support the fishermen and farmers within our own borders, wherever possible.

We should also think about how our food is processed and packaged. Too much is shipped out of Scotland to be processed and packaged, only to be imported for consumption. Surely we need to look at developing processing and packaging capability within our own shores.

Such an approach not only presents a better opportunity for our rural economy to establish the stability that it craves but has a major part to play in the long-term health strategy that Scotland so desperately needs. It is an obvious direction of travel for any Government to ensure that locally produced, high-quality food and drink make their way to school and hospital kitchens and dining halls.

In this debate, we are rightly highlighting the high quality and high standards of the food that is produced in Scotland. We are rightly proud of our global reputation in the food and drink sector. Why, then, has the Scottish Government been less than emphatic when it comes to putting that produce on Scottish tables? It is not just about what we eat at home; it is about our schools and hospitals and even our prisons—places where delivering nutritious, high-quality, locally sourced meals can have an impact on things such as health, attainment and mental health.

We know that it can be done. East Ayrshire Council has a focus on local food procurement, but that is very much the exception rather than the rule.

We hold our farmers to a high standard, and we hold them up to the world for their excellence, but while the world is impressed, our farmers are struggling to get their produce into the schools that are a mile down the road.

Food and drink are unquestionably a key part of the Scottish economy, and they play a role in Scotland’s health and even in Scotland’s identity. I urge the Scottish Government to take this opportunity to review its procurement policy, for the benefit of our fishermen and farmers.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

“Ambition 2030”, Scotland’s food and drink strategy, is deliberately ambitious. Our food and drink sector is currently worth £14.4 billion, with whisky and salmon being our two biggest exports, and the strategy aims to double the value of the food and drink sector by 2030.

How do we do that? It is not without its challenges, but the key lies in collaboration. Thanks to the Scotland Food & Drink partnership, which has been operating for 10 years, joint working in the industry has become commonplace—and the approach is working. No longer do farming, fishing and other food and drink producers work alone, in silos. They convene at trade shows throughout the EU and the world. They market themselves differently. They are Scotland plc. Scotland’s market is being promoted on the international stage.

As I said, the strategy is not without its challenges. The issue of skilled workers in the food and drink sector needs to be addressed. Traditionally, attracting young people to work in the industry has been a demanding task. As the cabinet secretary said, Skills Development Scotland estimates that there will be 27,000 job opportunities over the next 10 years in a range of roles, from practical, hands-on jobs to managerial posts.

The question for many constituencies, including mine, is how to fill those job opportunities, particularly given the challenges that are presented by the UK leaving the EU. Scotland Food & Drink and Skills Development Scotland launched a skills investment plan in January, which considers how we can fill those job vacancies and work with local schools to educate our young people about growing and cooking food and about the careers that are available in the industry.

I was delighted to hear the Minister for Employability and Training, Jamie Hepburn, announce last week a foundation apprenticeship in food and drink. I had asked James Withers about that at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on 31 May. It is essential to show our young people that a career in the industry is valuable and rewarding.

One of the aims of the strategy, which is also one of our manifesto commitments, is to move towards becoming a good food nation with the introduction of a good food nation bill. We want to see healthy locally grown produce available for all. We want schools to have allotments and grow, cook and sell their own produce, learning about where their food comes from and how it is produced. We want local healthy choices in our schools, hospitals and other public places, with ethical sourcing and fresh seasonal, local, sustainable produce. We want to inspire future generations to be proud of, and to contribute to, Scotland as the land of food and drink. As the strategy says, the key areas of a good food nation are health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, local economic prosperity, resilient communities and fairness in the food chain.

I have met and will continue to meet producers, community groups, non-governmental organisations and individuals to discuss this bill. I spoke about it at the SNP conference last year, and I met Jamie Oliver a couple of weeks ago to discuss possible ways forward and how Scotland can and does do things differently. As Councillor Heather Anderson said, the attainment gap can be closed only by closing the nutrition gap.

The issue is about land use, social justice, education and health. The good food nation bill could be one of the most exciting and important pieces of legislation that we pass in this Parliament. In the meantime, we need both public and private sectors to come together to continue to grow the industry and to realise our 2030 ambition.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

It is an absolute pleasure and delight to take part in this debate on food and drink, because it is impossible to talk about this sector and not to be excited by all the opportunities.

As a councillor with Angus Council, I had responsibility for economic development for the local authority, with the pleasure of working with the team that Graeme Dey mentioned—Alison Smith and Hilary Tasker—to encourage people and businesses to visit, invest in and live in the region. A massive part of that work was to promote and sell the best of our products to the rest of Scotland and beyond, such as Glencadam whisky, from my home town of Brechin, and the Forfar bridie, which I described to a foreign audience as a meaty puff of heaven. If anybody has still not tried one and would like to do so, please contact me and I will sort you out. I now represent part of Aberdeenshire and have even more to shout about in that region. We have, quite simply, some of the best produce to be found anywhere in the world, and that is why I welcome the motion.

I would like to focus on what we can do locally, within our communities, to strengthen local food supply chains. Although international markets are, of course, vitally important, we have to strengthen the links between our farmers, fishermen and primary producers and our communities, making local products far more readily available and easy to find, so that people know about and choose local produce.

That has been the ambition of an innovative collective launched last year in Angus called the Food Life. It is a group of farmers, retailers, food vendors and educators that aims to promote the produce of the region to those who live there and to visitors. The group promotes not just the products but our health and the encouragement of a healthier way of life. To do that, it educates and conducts pilot schemes and research. We cannot consider food just in terms of our rural economy alone; it feeds into many areas. Health is a vital part of that, and I am glad that health has been mentioned a few times today. We could do more to make those links clearer. I was pleased to hear Rhoda Grant’s points about food banks, to make sure that people who can least afford food and who have to use food banks have access to fresh healthy local produce.

As well as holding its own markets and food events, the Food Life looks at how to connect businesses to the local food supply chain. I was glad to hear some of the issues that Brian Whittle raised, because one massive stumbling block in achieving that has been the procurement process. Local companies with healthy, fresh offerings can reach a block when trying to provide their product to, say, local schools, and more needs to be done to address that. I welcome some of the comments that the cabinet secretary made in his opening statement. We should be making it easier for local food producers to get their products into our communities and through the barriers that exist in local authorities, arms-length organisations and the NHS.

We cannot talk about the importance of the food and drink sector without talking about some of the challenges that we face with Brexit. There is the rural development programme, which is worth £1.3 billion to Scotland, not to mention the importance of the European maritime and fisheries fund to coastal communities. With those funding streams guaranteed only for the immediate future, we need to know what will come in their place. We also need to know what will happen if we are not in the single market or the customs union. How will that affect getting our product to the market?

Beyond that is the issue that hangs over the EU citizens who come to work in various areas in food and drink, because it is a sector that needs people. In Angus alone, more than half of all people who work in the agricultural sector are expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. We need high levels of new entrants just to maintain the employment levels at the moment, let alone what we could need further down the line.

We are all lucky to be here representing constituencies and a country that are home to some of the best produce in the world. We have the product and the ambition is there; we just need to navigate some of the coming political obstacles to make this a real success.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I declare an interest as a farmer and food producer and I remind members of my interest in the development of farmers markets in Scotland. I am a paid-up member of NFU Scotland.

I welcome this debate on Scotland’s food and drink strategy, “Ambition 2030”, and I congratulate the Scottish food and drink industry on its remarkable success thus far. Our whisky industry leads the charge of success and the enormous diversity of its product is one of its key strengths. Our fish farming industry has boosted output and profitability in the past year and sustains around 7,000 jobs in the most remote and peripheral parts of Scotland, which is vital in socioeconomic and food production terms. Our livestock farmers deliver world-class beef and lamb and sustain our landscapes and our environment. Congratulations to the industry on what it has achieved thus far are the order of the day.

However, the point that I want to make to the cabinet secretary is that the very real threat to this remarkable success story is the lack of profitability for the primary producer in the supply chain. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s remarks in that regard.

Abattoirs across Scotland are having difficulty sourcing quality cattle because suckler herds are not profitable. Butter has now reached £6,000 per tonne because dairy farmers have not had a decent return from the market for too long, which Edward Mountain alluded to. Sheep farming lacks profitability, too. Those sectors are all gradually reducing their output, which is a real risk to processors and retailers, who so value the primary products that give them their provenance and marketing story to tell, but who nonetheless are not yet giving a fair share of the margin to the primary producers.

On a more positive note, I believe that there is a significant job to be done in developing the regionalisation of our food product. The French have been doing that for years. In France, the concept is elegantly known as “terroir”, which roughly translated means “of the land” or “of the region”. Wine from Bordeaux is different from wine from the Rhône, while cheese from the Haute-Savoie is different from cheese from Brittany, and the diversity of product, which I noted is a strength of our whisky industry, gives the French food and wine retailing market its strength and reputation.

My point is that we could and should develop that concept in our food industry in Scotland. Established brands such as Ayrshire tatties, Arbroath smokies, Stornoway black pudding and many others are the building blocks to develop that concept. The reality is that regional diversity adds to the food-buying choice and experience for our customers at home and abroad, as well as adding provenance and therefore value to what is being sold. I welcome Fergus Ewing’s intentions in that regard, which he announced this afternoon.

Developing the purchasing experience for our customers gave farmers markets the boost that allowed them to become established again in Scotland, and that enhanced experience should be further developed by creating covered producers markets, as found in almost every sizeable town in France and Spain. We should use the magnificent food hall at the Royal Highland Show as a template and create co-operative ventures through the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society on permanent sites in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We need to get the ball rolling and shorten the supply chain from farm gate to plate. Gail Ross is absolutely right to suggest that that should be done by more co-operation and collaborative working.

In addition, there are barriers to be removed, such as the punitive levels of business rates that are levied on our livestock auction markets and processing plants. As others have said, there are too few new entrants coming into the farming and processing sectors, as unemployment falls and competition grows, to persuade willing young people to make a career, perhaps through apprenticeships, in our dynamic food producing, processing and retail sector. However, those are obstructions that can be overcome, and the willingness of the industry to play its part is a credit to it. Now, Government must do its part to further remove barriers to growth and help create an incentivised fiscal framework to allow that track record of success to continue.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I remind the chamber that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary, Mr Ewing. As Scotland’s food and drink industry is closely linked with tourism, I also refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am part-owner of a bed-and-breakfast.

Scotland’s food and drink industry is vital to the rural economy, and I am delighted to welcome the Scottish Government’s ambitious plan to expand it further. Building our nation’s brand will be key to achieving that aim. Many people are becoming increasingly aware of how important provenance and sustainability are to the industry. I recently read a survey from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that showed that, although seven out of 10 people said that buying sustainable food is important, only 30 per cent of those folks buy sustainable produce. The key reason for that is that one third of those people are not sure how to choose sustainable food products and are confused by labelling. That indicates the importance of education and clear labelling, including country of origin labelling. The issue of country of origin labelling was raised with me by NFUS leadership this summer.

In response to Madame Gougeon, I say that the South Scotland region also has fantastic produce, which is produced by extremely talented and innovative people whose invaluable contribution to the local economy is to be credited. I thank them all. In many cases, those products have international appeal because of their quality, provenance and taste, and I would like to highlight just some: Galloway beef, from one of the world’s longest-established breeds of beef cattle; Loch Ryan oysters, from Scotland’s oldest oyster fishery; and award-winning beer from Sulwath Brewers. Members might be surprised to learn that Garrocher tea garden is growing and blending tea in Dumfries and Galloway. Our award-winning dairy produce is wide-ranging, from fresh milk and amazing ice-cream to specialist cheeses and yoghurt. It would be remiss of me not to mention Ayrshire tatties, but John Scott got there first.

I look forward to sampling all those products and many more at the upcoming Kirkcudbright food festival next month. However, before that, I have the Stranraer oyster festival this weekend, as part of the food and drink fortnight. At that event, the first of its kind in Scotland, my friend Hardeep Singh Kohli will, he has promised, teach me how to properly eat oysters. With the rebirth of Bladnoch and with Annandale, the south-west also has whisky distilleries—I remind everyone that that is Scotch whisky, not UK whisky. It also has a brand-new gin distillery, run by the Crafty crew at Newton Stewart. We have some great produce in our neck of the woods. I would be happy to take the cabinet secretary on a wee D and G tasting tour next summer, if he cares to come.

Key to unlocking the £30 billion potential of the sector is supporting the workforce—our farmers, fishermen and fisherwomen, growers, pickers and all those working in our agricultural sector. Like many colleagues across the chamber, I am sure, I spent the summer recess visiting farms and attending agricultural events and speaking to the farmers at the front line. I found that the future of staffing on many of the dairy farms is a huge concern. South-west Scotland has 48 per cent of Scotland’s dairy farms and many of their employees are EU citizens who have chosen to stay and make their home in Scotland. Those workers are worried about the future because the UK Government does not identify the rural workforce as skilled, but those people are skilled. I spoke with Andrew McCornick recently on this matter and he told me that the NFUS considers those agricultural workers to be competent and skilled, with which I agree.

As we face the hard and worrying realities of Brexit, we must do everything possible to support our rural industries to become more sustainable and resilient, which is exactly what I plan to do as we work towards achieving the Government’s plan for Scotland’s food and drink to 2030 and beyond.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

Let me say at the outset how supportive I am of the publication of “Ambition 2030”. It is great to see that level of partnership working within the food and drink sector, and the bodies involved are to be commended for their commitment and recognition of the benefits of working together. I am immensely proud of Scotland’s farmers, fishermen, food manufacturers, distillers and brewers, innovators and retailers for the hard work that they do and the contribution that they make to our daily lives, as well as to our culture and our economy.

As an MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, I get ample opportunity to recognise excellence, with a high number of food producers and retailers on my doorstep. Our businesses are often highly placed in food and drink awards. Most recently, I was delighted to see Tom Courts Burntisland Butchers being announced as a finalist in the UK butcher’s shop of the year awards, and I wish them all the best in the competition. They are a great example of a high street retailer and have been part of the revival of Burntisland High Street, which now has a fruit and vegetable shop and a fishmonger, alongside other independent retailers.

“Ambition 2030” recognises the progress that has been made over the past decade, when we have seen the food and drink sector grow into an increasingly important part of our economy. That mirrors an international trend and a greater interest in provenance, health, reputation and innovation in food and drink. The sector is an important part of our international image and it has shown the effectiveness of collaborative working. I support its efforts to grow sustainably and take advantage of opportunities. I could go on praising the sector—the Food and Drink Federation’s reception last week gave me a chance to talk to its members about new products, strong brands and the innovative techniques that they are pursuing.

“Ambition 2030” also recognises the importance of flexibility and the need to address challenges. In the short time that I have, I will raise a few issues that we need to be alert to. “Ambition 2030” recognises the importance of reputation. That is a strong asset and the horsemeat scandal of a few years ago was a wake-up call to everyone. We have a strong food and drink sector, but it is reliant on our having confidence in the regulatory system. There have been big changes in the number and practices of meat inspectors, and we know that the number of environmental health officers has reduced. They work under pressure and are more often reacting to situations than doing more preventative work. We do need a balance, and I appreciate that, by and large, the risks are low, but a threat to reputation can be very damaging to the sector, so we need to ensure that our systems are robust.

Of course, Brexit will have a significant impact on the food and drink sector. The future is uncertain, and I recently heard a report on the need for our dairy farmers to diversify. Most of our dairy products are imported, so there will be a need to increase our production of different products. We do not yet know the extent of Brexit, and in relation to many of our key products, such as whisky and salmon, we operate in an international market.

In all the discussion around immigration and the movement of people, we need to recognise how reliant the agricultural sector is on European workers. Producers find it difficult to employ Scots to do those jobs. I hear continually from food manufacturers that they struggle to recruit to the food processing sector, even though they are paying fair wages and offering attractive terms. We need to ensure that the sector offers attractive careers and I am pleased to see the emphasis on that in “Ambition 2030”. However, we need to emphasise to the UK Government the importance of the EU workforce in the sector at all levels and to accelerate programmes to present it as a positive career choice.

Finally, “Ambition 2030” recognises the need to work with the Government and industry to support improvements in diet and nutrition. I know that a lot of work has been done on reformulating products, which is welcome, but we need improvements in, and consistency on, healthy eating messages and food labelling.

Although this is largely a celebratory debate, I always find it challenging to talk about food abundance in Scotland when I am aware that the number of people who suffer from food poverty and rely on food banks is increasing. Of course, that is about poverty and not about the food sector, but we need to value a food sector that offers quality and affordability, while recognising that many of the products that we celebrate today are not always within every family’s income bracket and that the benefits of a good food nation should be available to everyone in Scotland.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

The motion celebrates the achievements of Scotland’s food and drink sector and the huge contribution that it makes to Scotland’s economy, and it recognises the sector’s ever-growing international reputation for quality. In supporting it, I have, of course, a fantastic local story to tell about the part that Ayrshire plays in that growing reputation for world-class food and drink.

Only last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Newmilns food festival in the Loudoun valley, which is a wonderful part of my constituency. I was astounded at the size of the festival, which is in only its second year—more than 4,000 visitors came into the tented village in the local Jamieson park.

The visitors were able to enjoy a wide range of locally produced food, including chilli from Fenwick, ice creams from Galston, speciality canapés from businesses in Kilmarnock and amazing cake creations from Newmilns. There were many hot-food demonstrations from a number of creative local businesses, with tasting sessions and the chance to wash it all down with ethical ales from Mauchline. Scotland was well represented, with stalls from all over the country showcasing fantastic produce in fish, meats and cheeses, and there were even some interesting gins, which seemed to be attracting the attention of several visitors.

Transport was provided to bring people to the event, and local people acted as stewards for the day to help to deliver a spectacular event that has certainly put Newmilns on the good-food map of Ayrshire. The organisers—who were all volunteers—and the contributors are to be congratulated on their efforts. That same weekend, in Kilmarnock, we had our European market, which also principally showcased quality local and European foods. We know that that market attracts about 40,000 visits to the town centre to enjoy that experience.

I started with those local stories because they typify the excellent work that is going on in this crucial sector of our economy. None of it is a happy accident; we can trace the reasons behind the success of those events to some of the impressive work that has been carried out in East Ayrshire for a number of years.

East Ayrshire has been a pioneer in localising the supply chain for and procurement of food since 2003. By focusing on cooking from fresh, using local produce and linking that to employment, food education, healthy eating and even reducing CO2 emissions, East Ayrshire’s approach in effect became the benchmark for good practice, particularly in school meals provision, not just in Scotland but across Europe.

When the food for life programme emerged, East Ayrshire was one of a handful of bodies in the public and private sectors in the UK to be awarded the gold standard for quality school meals, and it has consistently met that standard for 10 years. The gold standard is awarded to a service that demonstrates that its spend is split among organic produce, fair trade products, Quality Meat Scotland products and outdoor-reared pork and that it meets a few other criteria. The fair trade component means that the approach is not about exclusively using 100 per cent local produce—there is also a commitment to support fair trade nations by using the products that they can supply. We can find several commendations for the work that East Ayrshire has done from no less an organisation than the United Nations, in its various documents on the power of public procurement, which include commitments to sourcing from fair trade nations and are not all about exclusively local sourcing.

I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary mention that, as part of the programme for government, there will be further investment of more than £1 million in the food for life programme, to encourage all 32 of our local authorities to achieve that catering hallmark in their schools.

The national strategy sets a very ambitious target of doubling the value of the industry in just beyond a decade. About 115,000 people work in the industry in Scotland, and there is the prospect of another 20,000 jobs coming soon, over the next decade. Colleagues have touched on the risks to the strategy’s success if we do not solve the impending labour issue that concerns the many thousands of people who come from Europe and work in the sector in Scotland. In much the same way, thousands of Scottish and UK citizens also work in Europe.

Let us hope that we can persuade the UK Government to recognise in its deliberations with our European partners that that is a crucial mutual benefit that enriches all our cultures and benefits all our economies equally. I am confident that, if we achieve that, Scotland’s reputation as a world-class producer of food and drink will continue to go from strength to strength.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

I am always glad to make a speech about Scotland’s food and drink, because it gives me a chance to talk about the great town of Paisley. Far be it from me to be parochial, but members will be well aware of my pride in my home town.

It is always good to remind the chamber of our town’s contribution to Scotland’s many successes. I listened carefully to Willie Coffey and, in particular, John Scott when they talked about farmers markets and Ayrshire farmers, but one important aspect that Mr Scott did not mention when he talked about his work was the famous Paisley farmers market, which is full of produce from Ayrshire and Ayrshire farmers.

I want to mention Porrelli ice cream, which is the home of luxury Italian ice cream. The company, which is a previous winner of Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce’s family business of the year, was set up in 1925 when Gerardo Porrelli emigrated from southern Italy to Scotland. He settled in Paisley and brought with him ice cream that used traditional recipes from his homeland. The business now produces 6,000 litres of high-quality Italian ice cream every day in its state-of-the-art facility in Paisley and provides that quality product to the catering trade, frozen wholesalers, cash-and-carry operators and multiple retailers.

Porrelli is one of many successful small businesses in Paisley, which has seen an increase in good-quality food and drink venues, partly because of the excitement that its bid to be UK city of culture has generated. Many of those small to medium-sized enterprises will play an important part in regenerating Paisley town centre and, importantly, helping to bring people back into it. Others can have their massive chain stores—I will support the local independent businesses in my area.

With regard to drink, we have the small specialist brewer Kelburn Brewing Company, which provides an award-winning product. The business is based in Barrhead, but the owners’ hearts will remain for ever in Paisley, as they live in my constituency. The brewery, which is run by Derek Moore, his son Ross and his daughter Karen, is constantly competing and regularly winning prizes in various ale festivals throughout Scotland.

Our local airport, which is—paradoxically—called Glasgow international airport, now promotes Scottish products to the record-breaking numbers of visitors who go through it. Paisley town hall also hosts Scotland’s largest real ale festival. Being Paisley’s MSP can sometimes be a difficult job, but that is one occasion that I relish.

Food and drink in Scotland is not just about larger multimillion-pound companies but about supporting small independent companies. That is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in a new targeted supplier development programme to enable more food and drink suppliers to compete for public contracts, which is an issue that often comes up with smaller businesses. The Government has also committed to facilitating attendance at trade fairs, such as the showcasing Scotland event, and encouraging the attendance of public sector buyers and catering managers. It also wants to ensure that the supply chains for manufacturers and buyers work more closely together.

I could have mentioned a number of food and drink brands that owe their existence to the town of Paisley, but instead I wanted to lead with a small family business of Italian descent that has served and employed Paisley buddies for 92 years. As we look forward to what Scotland can achieve in the worldwide food and drink industry, we must remember the smaller companies that continue to produce excellent-quality product here in Scotland. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There was a bit of a delayed reaction to that speech.

We move to the closing speeches, and I hope that anyone who contributed to the debate but who has since left the chamber is running here now.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

We have had a good debate. I know that we say that a lot, but generally it has been good. All the contributors took the opportunity—rightly—to highlight the successes of our food and drink industry in their constituencies and regions.

In my summing up, I will comment on some of the contributions. Of course, I cannot mention everyone. First, I would like to agree with Fergus Ewing, although he is not in the chamber to hear me say that. [


.] I see that he is at the back of the chamber—he probably cannot hear me, anyway.

I would like to agree with Mr Ewing; in fact, I would like to agree with him all the time, but that is not possible. He said that the bedrock of our industry is the primary producers: our farmers, our fishermen and our crofters. Of course it is, but it is about more than that, and that is the focus of my amendment. We all want the Government’s food and drink strategy to succeed. That is why we need to ensure that our producers, environmentalists and consumers are involved in the process of designing a new bespoke system of agricultural support.

In a well-crafted and measured speech, Edward Mountain championed high-quality local produce, and the Liberal Democrats will support his amendment at decision time.

Rhoda Grant said that we need to showcase our local produce. Too often, our pubs are limited in what they can sell. Her amendment, which is designed to increase the share of Scotland-brewed products in Scotland’s pubs, is good. The Liberal Democrats are happy to support the Labour amendment.

Graeme Dey was right to take the opportunity to highlight the success and innovation of the food and drink industry in his Angus constituency.

Brian Whittle was absolutely right to say that our food and drink strategy should have a lot to do with our health strategy. Nutritious food should be provided to our hospitals and schools, for instance.

Gail Ross said that the need for skilled workers in the food and drink industry must be addressed. We need to think about how we can fill those job opportunities, especially now that we are leaving the European Union. We need to show our young people that a career in the industry is a valuable and rewarding one.

Mairi Gougeon—I hope that I pronounced that right—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Mairi Gougeon was clearly excited about promoting and selling local produce from her Angus North and Mearns constituency. She was so enthusiastic about the task that she was smiling—as she is now—almost throughout her speech. She mentioned that she represents the Mearns. As someone who used to be the constituency member for the Mearns before the Boundary Commission for Scotland came along, I concur with her on what a great place it is.

I hope that Parliament will support my amendment to the Government’s motion. I hope that, in a future debate in eight months’ time, the cabinet secretary will not turn round and say—as he did earlier in the debate—that I misinterpreted my own amendment. The amendment in my name that Parliament agreed to in January was not prescriptive, but it was clear, as is my amendment for today’s debate.

The cabinet secretary’s National Council of Rural Afdvisers does not meet Parliament’s expectations as agreed to on 19 January. My amendment urges the Scottish Government to expand the council of advisers to include

“the broadest possible range of experts and stakeholders, including producers, environmentalists and consumer groups, in designing the bespoke system of agricultural support that Scotland will need, particularly in the event of Brexit, for the Food and Drink Strategy to be a success.”

We must design a new system and make sure that everyone buys into it. Only in that way can a new system be designed that will succeed.

My amendment should be clear enough. In my view, it cannot possibly be misinterpreted.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I refer to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I welcome the opportunity to close the debate on Scotland’s food and drink strategy on behalf of Scottish Labour. I agree with Mike Rumbles that it has been a very good debate. We have had a wide range of contributions, every one of which has been excellent. Members have talked about local produce that they have a knowledge of, and I must say that I am feeling quite hungry after all the chat about food.

George Adam made an excellent point about Porrelli’s ice cream from Paisley. Among a number of others who made important contributions, Rhoda Grant made excellent points about food poverty, Brian Whittle spoke about local procurement, Gail Ross and Claire Baker talked about nutrition, and Willie Coffey mentioned fair trade.

A key point that we can all agree on is that Scotland’s world-renowned food and drink is as integral to our culture and our identity as our music, our sport and our heritage are. As Rhoda Grant said, we know that Scotland already produces some of the most sought-after natural produce in the world. We export food and drink far and wide and people come from far and wide to experience it here in Scotland. Scotland’s coastal communities also produce quality fish and shellfish, and we are now one of the largest seafood producers in Europe.

With such impressive natural resources, it is little wonder that food and drink is our fastest growing export sector, but we should not just pat ourselves on the back; we can and must do more. The food and drink strategy acknowledges that. It aspires to build on Scotland’s developing reputation as a land of food and drink and to grow tourism as well as increase sales and exports.

As has been said, the strategy has an ambitious target to double turnover in the sector by 2030, which would make food and drink Scotland’s most valuable industry. As we have heard, collaboration is vital to achieving that aim.

The strategy is right to say that the industry must deepen collaboration along the whole supply chain, from end to end, and that we must diversify our markets and our customer base, as that will support resilience in the sector. I will say more on those points in relation to the brewing industry later.

A number of members, including Claire Baker, Rhoda Grant and Mairi Gougeon, mentioned Brexit and were right to raise concerns about the impact that it could have. We believe that we need to see a Brexit deal that prioritises jobs and the economy.

It is well established that whisky is Scotland’s biggest export, currently accounting for 80 per cent of Scotland’s food and drink export market. It is vital that the interests of the whisky industry and others are represented in the Brexit negotiations.

As well as producing whisky, the brewing and distilling industry in Scotland continues to manufacture new products. Scotland is becoming a world-leading producer of craft beers and boutique gins. In the past year alone, there has been a 50 per cent spike in gin producers, while the brewing industry saw the growth of 20 additional small or micro breweries. There are now over 120 breweries in Scotland producing a wide variety of specialist beers, including Arran Brewery, Loch Lomond Brewery and Kelburn Brewing Company, which George Adam mentioned, in my region. No matter what part of the country someone chooses to visit, they are never far from a good local beer.

The purpose of Labour’s amendment is to agree that we should increase the share of Scottish brewed products in our pubs. It is important that the Scottish Government and other agencies take measures to encourage pubs to sell locally brewed products. One of the measures that we propose is to reform the tied pub sector in Scotland. As Rhoda Grant said, the contractual agreements between pubs and their pub company owners can require that they stock certain products, which are often multinational brands, which means that they cannot source beers directly from local brewers.

The Campaign for Real Ale and others believe that that model unfairly disadvantages smaller local brewers that find themselves blocked out of the tied pub sector. It has been estimated that more than £30 million could be leaving the Scottish economy every year as a result of the tied pub model.

I have proposed a member’s bill on tied pubs, because there are basic issues of fairness for publicans that we should address, but I also believe that if we are serious about giving Scottish consumers more choice and supporting jobs in the brewing industry, we should reform tied pubs. We should allow pubs the freedom to source locally brewed products on the open market and help them to support our local economies. I am pleased to say that my proposal has already received backing from CAMRA, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and GMB Scotland, as well as many tied publicans and brewers in constituencies across Scotland. They all believe that such a proposal would be good for Scotland’s brewers, pubs and economy. I hope that it will receive cross-party support in this chamber.

In closing, I will quote the strategy, which states:

“Political upheavals, like Brexit, bring uncertainty. They always do. But we can’t sit back and wait for calmer waters. Our competitors won’t do that. There is much in our world that we can’t control, but also much that we can.”

That sums up not only the strategy but the tone of members in the debate today.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

This has been a good debate. On the whole, it has been consensual and good humoured and it is timely, coming as it does during food and drink fortnight, when we celebrate and promote Scotland’s reputation as a source of some of the finest food and drink found anywhere in the world.

We have a fine story to tell. The Scotland Food & Drink partnership, which was launched in 2007, is a partnership organisation founded by industry and the public sector and led by a young, talented and energetic chief executive, James Withers.

In the 10 years to 2017, it has had great success in growing our food and drink sector and in raising the profile of the industry. Since 2007, industry turnover is up 44 per cent to £14 billion and exports have risen by 56 per cent to £5.5 billion. The sector employs 119,000 people and it has grown at twice the rate of the rest of manufacturing in Scotland.

The ambitious target now is to build on that successful base and to double the turnover to £30 billion by 2030. We have had past success, but our ability to meet the new target is dependent on continuing the model of collaboration right across the supply chain, sharing progress and best practice to help smaller businesses to grow, unlocking new marketing opportunities and uniting behind a joint mission to grow business.

Our reputation and our brand have been our strongest assets. Scotland is seen around the world—rightly—as a producer of the best food and drink, and that is underpinned by our focus on provenance and quality. In his speech, Brian Whittle stressed that and argued that the Scottish Government must do more to supply our fine food to our schools, hospitals, care homes and so on.

Diversity is another of our assets. We are blessed with a diverse natural larder and a diverse business base. We are fortunate to have some of the richest fishing waters in the world. Our fine fish, crabs and lobsters are in great demand, and farmed salmon—our biggest food export—is found on the finest menus worldwide. Our fishermen are at last enjoying good catches and good prices, and there is an optimism in the sector that has not been seen in many years.

We also have whisky, which is worth £5 billion to the economy. Exports of whisky are worth £4 billion, accounting for 80 per cent of our food and drink exports, and whisky is the UK’s largest net contributor to our balance of trade. Whisky production supports 40,000 jobs around the UK and employs 7,000 people in remote rural parts of Scotland. The whisky industry spends £1.7 billion on its supply chain and 80 per cent of that is spent in Scotland. Whisky is a great success story—

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

Absolutely. It is a success story and its future is bright as the premium alcoholic drink around the globe.

Members might be surprised that I have not yet mentioned farming. Of course, our farmers are a vital part of the food and drink success. Farmers produce much of the raw material on which the rest of the chain depends, which includes malting barley for whisky; beef, lamb and pork, which are produced to some of the highest ethical and welfare standards in the world; dairy products, such as cheese, yoghurt and butter; and fruit and veg. Those products find ready markets at home and abroad, and are celebrated for their great taste.

We have many of the finest farmers to be found anywhere. They are skilled, hard working, innovative and determined, but their hard work and skill are poorly rewarded. That truth was recognised by my colleagues John Scott and Edward Mountain, as well as by the cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing. Much more of the success of our food and drink sector needs to flow down to the primary producers who supply the raw materials on which it all depends. I am fed up saying it and I wish it were not true, but official Government statistics tell us that the average income for Scottish farmers was only £12,600 last year. That is after receiving their CAP support and is a pittance for all that hard work and innovation. It is well below the minimum wage for a 40-hour week, let alone the 60-hour or 70-hour week that most of our farmers work.

We have had many rows across this chamber in the past 18 months about information technology systems and delays in vital CAP money, but every farmer would forgo that money tomorrow if he could only get a fair return from the market place. I wonder whether that will ever happen. I hope to see it happen, but I do not know whether it will.

I am enthusiastic about the £30 billion target by 2030. By growing our food and drink industry, more will be demanded of our farmers. Supply and demand tell me that that should result in better prices.

Exports have been a success for our industry, but we must never forget that our biggest and best market is our home market in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Of the beef that we produce here, 90 per cent is exported, and 90 per cent of that goes to England. Our internal single market is vital and we need to remember that during all the talk about Brexit.

This has been a good debate. It has been consensual and optimistic for the most part and I have enjoyed listening to and taking part in it. If only I had a dram to add to my glass of water, the toast would be: “Here’s to future success.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That is a habit that we will try not to get into. [



Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not know whether I will get into trouble for saying this, but that is an unfortunate ruling, Presiding Officer. [



This has been an excellent debate, as many members have said. It is great to see not only recognition across the chamber of the great success story that is Scotland Food & Drink, but support for its new strategy, “Ambition 2030”. Such broad support for the strategy bodes well in terms of helping us to achieve it.

I was also pleased to hear so many members pay tribute to producers and local business—in particular, the farmers and fishermen who are often left out of the narrative. That was not the case today, as Mr Chapman and many others illustrated.

I was pleased that Mr Rumbles focused on the whisky industry, which is a great success story for Scotland. That success is being experienced not only by the big boys, as it were, but by the craft distillers, in the rural flourishing of distillation of fine Scottish gins. I am delighted that bodies such as HIE have managed to support in a concrete way the creation of the new distilleries around the country, but particularly in the Highlands and Islands, which I especially welcome. I was pleased that James Withers and his team at Scotland Food & Drink had tribute paid to them. I echo that tribute.

I will quickly run through some of the Scottish Government’s specific support for the sector. It includes £65 million that has been allocated through our food processing and marketing co-operation grant scheme, which has supported 220 projects, and £85 million that has been allocated through the European fisheries fund to support 1,000 seafood and fisheries projects. Last Monday, I visited Scrabster to give financial support to the ice factory there, which will help Scrabster to maintain and strengthen its position as the UK’s second-largest white-fish port.

We have allocated £3.5 million to support the delivery of the Scottish export plan, led by Scottish Development International, and £3 million to support connect local, an advisory service for microbusinesses. We have invested £3 million in education-related projects, including the successful food for life programme that is operating in schools across Scotland with—as Willie Coffey said—East Ayrshire leading the way in that regard. I will be celebrating the 10 years of success with those involved in the programme in November.

We have allocated £1 million in community funds to support producers and communities in celebrating local food through events. Mr Scott made a good point about looking to regionalise our effort generally in that regard. We will look at that carefully and would be happy to work with him on that.

We have made a £10 million investment with industry to support the delivery of “Ambition 2030”. We have worked with retailers, businesses and primary producers. Credit is due to many of them. For example, the Co-op and Morrisons are committed to sourcing 100 per cent of their fresh meat from the UK and Scotland. What a good example that is. I hope that the other supermarkets will look carefully at their approach. The difficulty in such sourcing is, as I think that we are all aware, often practical—the difficulty in getting enough meat on the shelves from producers reliably day after day. Bidfood is committed to doubling the value of Scottish range, and Aldi has reduced its payment terms to suppliers from 33 days to 14 days, which is benefiting 90 small businesses in Scotland. That is a great thing. Marks & Spencer has committed to stocking Scottish lamb all year round.

Brian Whittle mentioned local sourcing and made an interesting and valuable contribution to the debate. Of course some things are difficult to source, as was highlighted by the BBC. For example, poultry is typically more expensive in Scotland and supply is not sufficient for our needs—not even for the supermarkets. That is a practical matter that constrains our ability to supply all our needs.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is a supply and demand issue? If demand is created, our Scottish farmers will supply to it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am a supporter of a regulated market, but the point is that not enough Scottish chicken is produced to meet demand. Much of it is bought by the main retailers and even they cannot get enough. However, discussions are on-going with primary producers with the potential for upscaling production, which is something that we both wish to see, I think.

Not much Scottish cheese is bought by the public sector. Much is imported from Ireland because of cost. Ireland has a wide range of commodity, or cheaper, products whereas Scotland produces more high-value and premium cheese. Again, I know that that situation is being looked at carefully.

The point that I am making is that those are partly business and commercial matters in which practical considerations apply. I do not think that we can make it mandatory to buy Scottish or British: that would not be practical. Scottish fruit and vegetables are excellent and of high quality, but they are not available all year round. One must bear in mind the practicalities.

However, on local sourcing, we have done a number of things. Mairi Gougeon talked about the importance of obtaining accreditation status for businesses that can get into procurement contracts. We have a programme that is working intensively with 30 businesses to increase their capacity, and we are investing £100,000 in that.

The expansion of the food for life programme, through investment of £400,000, will be a key factor in driving more local sourcing. We are doing a number of other things to promote local sourcing of food.

In marketing, our 2017 national “Showcasing Scotland” event is being held in Perthshire in a couple of weeks. More than 160 businesses will showcase their products to more than 120 international and domestic buyers. We will replicate that model by having regional showcasing events across Scotland. More details of that will follow in due course.

Our success abroad has been considerable; I gave some examples earlier: there are others. In the USA, Mull of Kintyre cheddar was launched to more than 1,100 Publix stores in the south-east states. In Hong Kong, a Scottish gin company is expected to sell £1.5 million-worth of its product during the next three years.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Will the cabinet secretary agree that an enormous opportunity exists for Prestwick airport to be one of the freight hubs in Scotland for exporting our high quality produce as opportunities grow?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am happy to agree with John Scott and happy to work with him thereanent.

We also want to focus on the UK market of £50 million in England and £10 million in London alone. It is an important market, so Scotland Food & Drink is to publish an action plan setting out a range of further measures.

Brexit has been mentioned by many members. The threat of the loss of essential skilled and unskilled labour from the food and drink industry is clear. In the soft fruit and veg sector 15,000 non-UK seasonal workers are employed on Scottish farms. Angus Soft Fruits has expressed concern about that. In the bakery trade, one-third of workers are EU nationals. In seafood processing, 70 per cent of workers come from the EU. A survey from the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers shows that 52 per cent of the industry’s unskilled workforce and 44 per cent of its skilled workforce come from the EU.

John Scott quite rightly mentioned the sustainability of Scottish abattoirs and the amount of livestock that they receive, but there is also the fact that 90 per cent of the official veterinarians who are necessary for the functioning of abattoirs come from the EU. I do not want to make political points in the debate, but there is a real worry about the continued availability of labour and, to be frank, the sooner we have clarity on the issue, the better.

This has been an excellent debate. I am grateful to all the members who have contributed, and I look forward to seeing even greater success in Scotland’s food and drink sector.