The UK government feeds a lot of mouths each year people in schools, hospitals, armed forces, central and local government, government agencies, prisons and courts. In fact the procurement budget for food and catering services is now running at £2.4 billion every year.
Getting value for money in government procurement is a sensitive issue. Four years ago, Sir Philip Green produced a report which included the astonishing finding that different government departments were paying between 350 and 2,000 for the same laptop from the same supplier.
So it might be thought that the governments latest move on food procurement would be to target cutting costs. In fact, at the moment, EU rules encourage public sector bodies to go for the lowest cost contractor.
However, environment secretary Liz Truss admits that this could be a false economy as unappetising food goes uneaten, and procurement based on high quality food can be better value because of the higher take-up.
This is all laid out in a report by Dr Peter Bonfield entitled A Plan for Public Procurement. He proposes a balanced procurement scorecard that includes price, production, health and wellbeing, resource efficiency, socio-economic factors and quality of service.
It could mean more food would be sourced from domestics producers the estimate is that 400m of business could become available to domestic farmers and food producers.
The plan has been welcomed by NHS Supply Chain, which is operated by DHL. We recognise that we are an important link between food producers, suppliers and NHS hospitals. Our priority for food is a portfolio of framework agreements compliant with European regulations which deliver sustainable value to the NHS, said Rachel Repper, trading director at NHS Supply Chain Business Development.
The National Farmers Union is, not surprisingly, also enthusiastic. But the acid test iswhether the food does get better and waste is reduced?