Public Procurement Food Contracts (Access for Farmers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that farmers have access to public procurement contracts for food. (S5O-02542)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Since 2007, we have seen a 41 per cent rise in the proportion of locally sourced produce in the public sector, with more and more farmers and other food producers supplying our public sector contracts, such as those provided through Scotland Excel. We want more of our local produce to be served in our schools, hospitals and prisons and in other public bodies, and we are facilitating that through a range of measures such as the supplier accreditation programme, regional showcasing—which I have just mentioned—and the expansion of the food for life programme.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Mossgiel farm near Mauchline is leading the way in organic milk production; it has also done away with plastics in favour of bottling its milk. The farm supplies local businesses, restaurants and cafes, but the farmer has told me that it is next to impossible for local suppliers such as his farm to make any headway with Scotland Excel public procurement contracts. Sixty-nine per cent of the food that is supplied under that system comes from outside Scotland, which I am sure the cabinet secretary will agree is unacceptable. What can he and the Scottish Government do to support our local food suppliers and simplify the public procurement process—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Let us get to the question, please, Mr Whittle.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

—so that locally procured food can make it to our school dining halls?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I understand that 100 per cent of the fresh milk that is used across Scottish schools is Scottish, from Wiseman and Graham’s dairies, so there is already a Scottish supplier of milk to our schools in Scotland, which I am pleased about. Mr Whittle mentioned another supplier, and if he cares to write to me, I will look into the circumstances of that company.

Mr Whittle also mentioned Scotland Excel, which now requires a Scottish price in its groceries and provisions framework. It does that by having a secondary price list for products whose country of origin is Scotland. The definitions of “country of origin—Scotland” and “manufactured in Scotland” are now included in the Scotland Excel frozen tender. I have met Scotland Excel, and I have heard of the excellent work that it does.

It is difficult for small businesses to break into public procurement, which is why we have a supplier accreditation programme and why, in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, we made specific provision to encourage small businesses so that they can get into procurement. It is still not easy in some cases. A relationship needs to be built up with local authorities and other public sector bodies, which takes time and input from all sides. I am delighted that we have made significant progress, with more and more Scottish produce being provided to our schoolchildren, patients, hospital workers and people across the public sector. That work continues.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

In spite of that work, it is very difficult for small producers to supply their local primary school or the health sector. Could the cabinet secretary address the matter in a good food nation bill?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

There is no need for me to do so, because the work is already under way and in train. The food for life programme is extremely successful—indeed, Mr Whittle mentioned it a fortnight ago in relation to East Ayrshire Council. We have a £400,000 programme to extend that good work to all local authorities over a period of years.

There are many examples of great success by relatively small or medium-sized businesses in supplying food to schools around Scotland. For example, Swansons Fruit Company in Inverness supplies locally sourced fruit and veg to schools across the Highlands—the region that Rhoda Grant represents; McWilliam butchers in Aberdeen supplies meat to schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire; Corrie Mains farm in East Ayrshire supplies primary schools with eggs; and Fenton Barns farm in East Lothian supplies 40 per cent of the poultry that is sourced by the national health service. Many companies are succeeding, and we are doing a lot of work. We do not need any further legislation to do that—we just need to get on with it, and that is what we are doing.