The public sector can strengthen local supply chains and help local producers access them by being set targets and annually reporting where food, served in staff canteens for example, comes from. This would strengthen local supply chains and help local producers to access them.

These are just two of a series of recommendations contained in a new report commissioned by Devon and Somerset County Councils, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and the National Farmers Union.

The report follows a research project conducted by University of Exeter, which sought to understand south west’s food supply chains and the interaction between producers and those involved in food storage and processing, large wholesalers, and public sector organisations.

As part of a “culture change”, catering staff, managers, and chefs should receive extra training on preparing food using seasonal produce and the benefits of using local food and supply chains.

A regional mission statement, committing to local food procurement, should be adopted by all public sector organisations to help drive a positive change in purchasing decisions.

The report also suggests ways major organisations and public bodies in the south west can purchase more from food suppliers and producers based in the region.

The researchers, led by Professor Matt Lobley, concluded that a greater knowledge of food supply chains coupled with these measures would support improved opportunities for farmers and food producers, deliver social and environmental benefits and boost the local economy.

Buying local produce will help the regional economy and can contribute to improved sustainability – buying locally will have a range of environmental benefits including reduced food miles which will also help public sector organisations meet their net-zero targets.

The research involved analysis of the food that public institutions, such as hospitals and schools, buy and in what form– for example already prepared – and how frequently. Researchers also interviewed farmers and food producers.

Their work has included identifying the barriers and benefits of using local food in public sector organisations.

Professor Lobley said: “There needs to be a culture change, within and between, public organisations in the south west. We hope our recommendations will be taken up by the public sector in the region, so the area can be a test bed for potential national change. As this work continues we will share findings with the government and campaign for positive changes, and seek their help to lead this agenda proactively.

“We believe these changes will improve the food system for people, place and planet.”

The report also recommends:

  • Tenders put out by the public sector should be more accessible to local producers and suppliers, and procurement contracts should be split into smaller lots to encourage regional food businesses.
  • The public sector and other buyers should better accommodate the payment and delivery terms of regional producers.
  • Tendering processes should be streamlined, and there should be more transparent engagement with regional producers and suppliers.
  • Public organisations should engage with regional producers and suppliers to explain how tenders will be evaluated and allow potential suppliers to shape tender.
  • Public organisations should do more to help south wwest farmers to participate in food supply chains in the region by investing in initiatives such as farmer cooperatives, supply chain collaboration and food hubs. They should explore investing in new regional processing units or distribution centres.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, which helped co-fund the report, will now work with local and regional partners to see the recommendations implemented. Clare Parnell, board member and rural lead, said: “The public sector, including health and education, is a huge consumer of food but procurement tends to be centralised rather than local. If we can create more opportunities for local farmers and growers, including bringing them together to supply contracts at scale and year-round, it will strengthen the local economy, make our rural businesses more sustainable and by extension allow them to continue to invest in the natural capital that sustains our countryside and visitor economy.”