It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate my hon. Friend Derek Thomas on securing the debate, which gives us an opportunity to recognise the importance of the food, farming and fisheries sector, which, let us not forget, employs about one in seven of all workers in this country.
I should declare an interest in that I, as some of my colleagues know, studied agriculture. I attended Writtle Agricultural College in the early ’90s and studied for a higher national diploma in commercial horticulture. I also did a number of other courses through the local further education college that was mentioned earlier—Cornwall College, down in Camborne in my constituency—which offered some very good work in this area. Also in my constituency I have Duchy College, which is linked to Cornwall College and is one of the country’s leading agricultural colleges. This is an issue that I am passionate about because it is an issue I chose to study myself.
The food, farming and fisheries sector provides a huge variety of career opportunities, including many requiring skills in science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM. Food manufacturing is the biggest manufacturing sector in this country, as other hon. Members have pointed out. It employs about 400,000 people and provides about one sixth of the UK’s total manufacturing gross value added. In its 2016 productivity report, the Food and Drink Federation estimated that 130,000 jobs would need to be filled between 2014 and 2024, with food engineers and scientists particularly in demand. Clearly, therefore, there are great opportunities in the food manufacturing sector for today’s talented young people to build their careers.
Agricultural technologies are also transforming farming, creating new types of jobs needing new kinds of skills. Successful modern farming requires technical proficiency, business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. For example, I recently met a group of Tesco young farmers who were investing in developing their business, leadership and management skills and their understanding of the wider supply chain issues, while balancing busy jobs on poultry, dairy, arable and sheep farms.
The food and farming sector is also important to our nation as an industry that has a presence right across the country. It is interesting that we have had contributions from the far south-west—St Ives—and from Midlothian at the other end of the country about the importance of the sector to those areas.